The Edmond Sun

State News

July 5, 2012

EPA: Mycotoxin fungus may be cause of last year’s Red River fish kill

TULSA — A poisonous fungus is the potential culprit behind a massive fish kill on the Red River last July, according to an interim report released last month by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The fish kill was noticed by fishermen near the community of Oscar in Jefferson County, where thousands of blue and flathead catfish, many of them weighing 30 to 40 pounds, were found floating to the surface along a roughly 100-mile stretch of the river bordering Oklahoma and Texas.

“We found dead fish downstream to nearly Lake Texoma,” said Barry Bolton, chief of fisheries for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “It was predominately the big fish.”

Officials first pointed to heavy metals as a suspected source. Lead and mercury are such examples.

But EPA chemists have determined in the most recent analysis that an outbreak of a mycotoxin, which grows on rye, barley, wheat and grasses, including fescue and marsh grass, was a potential cause of the fish kill.

Mycotoxins are a by-product of fungal growth, according to the report, which stressed that the investigation is ongoing.

The report indicates that the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality are not sure how the mycotoxin entered the river.

State officials collected water samples last July and September. The samples were sent to state laboratories and the EPA.

State officials were concerned about a “cloudy, gel-like material” discovered in samples collected from the Ketchum Bluff area near Oscar. The EPA lab determined that it had elevated levels of magnesium hydroxide and sodium chloride, but there was no mention of these substances in the report’s “key messages,” which pointed solely to the mycotoxin as the potential cause for the fish kill.

EPA spokesman Dave Bary said the agency is not aware of a mycotoxin being the cause of other fish kills in Oklahoma.

Bolton said state environmental officials are investigating another fish kill that occurred last month in the same part of the river. “We found fewer dead fish this year than last year, but it was the same pattern, the same kind of fish,” he said.

The report indicates that the EPA will take more water samples in connection with the most recent fish kills and that their analyses will be included in a final report.

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