Volume 104, Number 33 - August 16, 2007
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River probe still murky
The investigation into the cause of the spill across 73 feet of the Green River a few weeks ago is lagging, said officials from the Department of Agriculture (DA), because the commercial applicator suspected of spilling the insecticide malathion lives out of state.
Brian Lovett, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) compliance and inspection program officer, said the DEQ took soil and water samples at and around the spill site, but won’t receive results showing how much pesticide remains at the location until the end of the week. “We will continue to monitor the area to confirm the natural cleanup we anticipated is occurring,” Lovett said, though he couldn’t predict how long monitoring would be necessary.
Lovett remains confident the river is safe for people to use for irrigation, to fish from, and to use as drinking water for livestock. “It’s a safe area for humans — aquatic life, we’re not sure on yet, but humans, we’re OK,” he said.
Soil samples taken on Aug. 1 revealed only a small amount of malathion remaining on the riverbank, and the Green River appeared completely clean of the substance that killed 300 fish immediately after the spill.
Because malathion is often used on ground soil for grasshopper control, it doesn’t pose any danger to local plant life. The DA traced evidence to an out-of-state commercial applicator last week and mailed an inquiry of information to the suspected individual about a week ago.
The department received a receipt on Monday that the individual received the letter with directions to reply in seven days, and expects to receive a reply by Aug. 20, said Hank Uhden, DA manager of technical services. “I feel (the investigation) has gone slower than you’d expect, but based upon the circumstances, it’s understandable it’s taken so much time,” he said, adding that the department usually conducts inspections in person.
If the individual doesn’t respond, the DA will consult its legal representation before deciding the next move. Of the 18,000 contracted commercial applicators in Wyoming, many have licenses in multiple states, Uhden said. Individuals and businesses around the Green River often hire insecticide applicators this time of year to spray agriculture fields and residential plots, Uhden said, and he said he guessed some people might hire professionals from out of state. “It’s just like drilling for oil, you take people from wherever you can get them,” he said.
Spilling is a constant risk in the industry, said John Holick, supervisor of Teton County Mosquito Abatement (TCMA). TCMA stopped spraying malathion in Teton County at least four years ago, Holick said, after a spill occurred in a local stream. Holick didn’t know how much was spilled or where, because it occurred before he joined the abatement team, but he knew no fish were killed.
“I’m really surprised to hear about the Green River spill, because malathion’s not really that big in killing fish,” he said. “The product we use now is much more dangerous to fish.”
The county sprays about 50,000 acres of the pesticide pyrethrum, and though some citizens do complain, Holick said TCMA is always careful that equipment is in perfect condition and they only use as much as specified on the label.
“I’m more considered about the risks of West Nile than the possibility of killing fish,” he said. Uhden couldn’t specify how the DA identified the suspected individual, but he said his staff reported that all the locals they spoke to were very cooperative in providing answers.
“That’s really a benefit when people are willing to help,” he said. “I believe we’ll be able (to find the person who caused the spill) with a high degree of confidence.”
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