Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Pennsylvania sues Consol for Dunkard fish kill

Muskies killed by the Dunkard algae bloom

In 2009, discharges from a Consol Energy mine triggered an algae bloom that wiped out almost all aquatic life in Monongalia County’s Dunkard Creek. West Virginia environmental officials responded; after months of deliberation, they issued what amounted to slap-on-the wrist penalties.

Unfortunately for Consol, the Dunkard Creek kill didn’t end at the Monongalia County line. The stream flowed onward into Pennsylvania, wiping out life on that side of the border, too. Now Pennsylvania fisheries officials are taking action, and they appear to be made of sterner stuff than their Mountain State counterparts. From the Associated Press:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on Wednesday sued the coal company Consol Energy Inc. for the deaths of thousands of fish and other animals along a 30-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The Greene County, Pa., lawsuit followed a similar complaint that the commission filed last week in Monongalia County, W.Va., over the 2009 fish kill.
The commission blamed discharges from Consol mines for the deaths of about 43,000 fish, 15,000 mussels and 6,500 mudpuppies. It said it will take decades for the stream to return to health.
Lynn Seay, Consol’s media relations director, said company officials had not seen the lawsuits and would not comment until they did. The lawsuit also names as defendants Consolidation Coal Co. and Windsor Coal Co., both located at Consol’s headquarters in Canonsburg.
In the immediate aftermath of the kill, other fish were lethargic, with many congregating at the mouths of small tributaries and some seen gulping for air at the surface, the lawsuit said.
“Inspection of the stressed and dying fish revealed that their gills were inflamed, blood vessels were dilated or ruptured and tissues were abnormally reddish” near their gills, commission lawyers wrote in the West Virginia complaint.
The Pennsylvania agency said high levels of chloride, total dissolved solids and salinity were associated with the growth of golden algae in that area of Dunkard Creek.
“Chloride and TDS discharges from defendants’ mines created and/or contributed to the creation of conditions favorable for the presence of golden algae in excessive quantities, which ultimately led to the fish kill,” according to the fish commission’s West Virginia lawsuit.
It said Dunkard Creek is the only known location for the salamander mussel.
The September 2009 fish kill on the tributary of the Monongahela River left the stream tea-colored and devoid of nearly all life, with only water bugs and some minnows from feeder streams still alive.