Sierran Masthead

Chemical Spill Kills 100,000 Fish, Raises Publicís Environmental Awareness in State

One of Indianaís biggest environmental disasters--a chemical spill into the White River that killed more than 100,000 fish--remains unsolved and is still under investigation as we went to press.

The spill, which affected 50 miles of the White River from Anderson to Indianapolis, wreaked its havoc in December. ďA total loss of fish lifeĒ was reported from Anderson to Fishers, said Bill James of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. It will take months, perhaps until the summer or later, for officials to assess the full damage to the White Riverís aquatic life and ecology.

The massive destruction raised the environmental awareness of hundreds of citizens who packed four public meetings held by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Despite assurances of drinking-water safety from the water company and health agencies, residents were worried about their wells and tap water. Many citizens were shocked to learn that treated chemical discharges are legally permitted into waterways. Residents complained that IDEM was slow to inform the public and health officials of the spill, unprepared to deal with an environmental emergency, and lax in taking action to stop and find the spillís cause.

The suspected contaminant is sodium dimethyldithiocarbamate, a neurotoxin at high concentrations. Guide Corporation, an automotive parts production plant in Anderson, is suspected of discharging the chemical to the Anderson wastewater treatment facility. The company has denied responsibility.

As the disaster unfolded, information from river watchers funneled quickly through the Friends of the White River organization. This action encouraged Heartlands Group member Ed Paynter to invite the Friends of the White River and other central Indiana environmental groups to form a coalition that would address the issue with one voice.

Paynter served as the coalitionís spokesman to the media and the public. The other environmental groups that joined the coalition were the Audubon Society--Amos Butler Chapter, the Hoosier Environmental Council, Improving Kidsí Environment, and Protect Our Rivers Now.

Coalition members were quoted on television news and in newspaper reports on a near-daily basis in mid-January.

IDEM and IDNR are now coordinating efforts with local health departments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Center for Disease Control. IDEM has also hired a private attorney to investigate the spill.

The Sierra Club in Indiana has been a long-time advocate for rivers, lakes, and wetlands in the state. Over two years ago, the Hoosier Chapter chose clean water as its environmental focus. At its most recent planning retreat, the chapter renewed the campaign and will continue its advocacy for water cleanup and protection.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[10/8/02]efp

Spring 2000