Toxic chemical spill wipes out aquatic life in Coxsackie creek

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COXSACKIE – According to the DEC, the Potic Creek provides habitat for at least a dozen variety of fish, but after a toxic chemical spill this weekend, officials say every one of those species has been wiped out.

“We discovered more or less, a total wipe out of the aquatic life for the critters that weren’t able to escape onto a terrestrial habitat,” said Chris Van Maaren, Regional Fisheries Manager for DEC. “Frogs did okay and turtles did okay…Mostly invertebrates passed due to the alum.”

VanMaaren says his team of scientists hasn’t yet discovered the total range of damage done to the Potic Creek downstream from the Village of Catskill Water Treatment Facility in Earlton.

On Sunday morning, approximately 1,500 gallons of aluminum salts, or alum, leaked from the facility due to a broken pipe. 

VanMaaren says it’s really hard to say how long it might take for the stream’s ecosystem to replenish.  

“I don’t know exactly how long it’s going to maintain a toxic environment,” he stated. “I think the pH is starting to come back already.”

Even though the pipe has been repaired, significant environmental damage remains, including dead contaminated fish that can be seen floating in the water, not to mention the possibility that other wildlife may feast on those remains, although VanMaaren believes non-aquatic wildlife is not likely to be impacted by the toxin.

Still, he says it’s important to restore and maintain a balanced ecology.

“You need to maintain a healthy system,” he said. “Typically, the diversity of species is indicative of the health of the system.”

Potic Creek is not a public drinking water supply.

According to VanMaaren, it might take up to five years to replenish the wildlife in the stream, but he also points out there’s no way of predicting if another pipe will rupture.