Thousands of dead fish suspiciously wash up in Burke County

By: Chad Mills Email
By: Chad Mills Email

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011

BURKE COUNTY, Ga. -- Stephen Johnston is noticing what a lot of people along Brier Creek are seeing. Thousands of rotting, festering dead fish are washing ashore or floating belly-side-up in the now putrid creek.

"Rough estimate --- I'd probably say over a 100, 200, maybe even 300," he estimated. He was just talking about the number he's seen near his property downstream from the town of Keysville in Burke County near the county line with Richmond County.

It smells so bad he says he can barely breathe.

"The other wildlife such as the raccoons, your possums, minks, or otters -- how's it going to affect them?" he asked.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus was still taking samples after sunset Tuesday. She can't believe how many fish have washed up dead.

Kevin Chambers with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division estimates the dead fish number in the thousands. He told News 12 the likely culprit is a chemical called aluminum sulfate or alum.

"Alum is something that's very commonly used in kaolin mines. They use it to settle the kaolin out of the water to be able to remove it from the waterway," said the Bonitatibus.

She says there are six mines right there in Keysville that extract the chalky rock called kaolin.

"It should be easy to find where did the fish begin to die and where did they not," she told News 12.

But she's not just upset with the polluter. She's upset with EPD, too.

"Part of the problem that we've run into in this fish kill, which is very similar to the Ogeechee fish kill, is the failure to notify the public and let them know what's going on," she said.

She says they've yet to put out advisories on swimming and eating fish from the creek. And now people like Johnston are also worried about the very drinking water they pull from the creek.

Kevin Chambers with the EPD says they got the first call about the problem Saturday night. He says the EPD is still investigating the kill. They could issue advisories once they collect more data.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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