A recent fertilizer spill near Red Oak, Iowa, has triggered a devastating environmental catastrophe. According to the Iowa DNR, the result is the death of almost all aquatic life in a nearly 50-mile stretch of the East Nishnabotna River, all the way to the Missouri border. NEW Cooperative, Inc. reported the spill of around 1,500 tons of liquid nitrogen fertilizer on March 11th, stemming from an open valve on an aboveground storage tank over the weekend.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources documented the extensive fish kill, tallying 749,242 dead fish of various species as of March 28th. Cleanup efforts are underway, with contaminated soils being removed from the facility and surrounding areas for land application at approved sites. Meanwhile, contaminated water is being pumped and stored until proper disposal methods are determined by a third-party consultant.

Credit: KETV News Watch 7 YouTube Channel
Credit: KETV News Watch 7 YouTube Channel Location of the nitrogen leak at NEW Cooperative.

Legal ramifications are incoming as the spill violates Iowa Code section 455B.186, prohibiting pollutant discharge into rivers without a permit. The DNR is working with its Legal Services Bureau to determine enforcement measures and potential restitution for the extensive loss of aquatic life. Ongoing monitoring has begun to show a decline in ammonia levels in the river, but the DNR has urged people to refrain from recreational activities on the river and to avoid consuming any dead fish.

Thousands Of Dead Fish Found On North Carolina Beach
Credit: Getty Images
Typical scene of a high casualty fish kill.

This spill is not the first of the year, but it serves as a stark reminder of our fragile aquatic ecosystems and the importance of stringent environmental regulations and prompt response to such incidents. Last year a fish kill of 20,000 Sturgeon were found dead along a 60-mile stretch of the river, from Ottumwa to Farmington in southeast Iowa. That kill was due to low water/oxygen levels and water temperature. As cleanup efforts persist in Montgomery County, clean-up remains vigilant in safeguarding the affected area's ecological integrity and public health.

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Gallery Credit: Abby Monteil