Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

August 17, 2011

Officials: Ingestion of Bluestone River fish dangerous

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Officials in both Virginias are asking residents to be cautious of consuming fish caught in the Bluestone River after contaminants were found in the water.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) monitored five sites along the Bluestone River Watershed, including the Richwood area of Bluefield, Va., and areas near Camp Joy, Wright’s Valley, Laurel Creek and Falls Mills, Va., between 2008 and 2009. The DEQ found that each site exceeded the minimum allowed amount of E. coli and fecal coliform safely permitted within water sources and many of the sites had more than double the state standard most of the time readings were taken.

According to Teresa Frazier, an environmental specialist with the DEQ, residents should limit their consumption of fish caught in the Bluestone River due to E. coli and fecal coliform contamination.

“The fish are definitely the worst issue here,” Frazier said. “There are oil-based contaminants in the water that, through the food chain, get into the fish. The chemical will stay in the fish through human consumption. We advise people to never eat carp from the Bluestone and to limit the number of fish they eat that have been caught in the river.”

The Virginia Department of Health said residents should not consume any carp and should not have more than two meals a month consisting of any other fish caught in the river, including white sucker, rock bass or largemouth bass.

The Bluestone River flows from Tazewell County into West Virginia where it becomes part of the New River Watershed. John Wirtz, assistant director of watershed assessment with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said West Virginia has similar fish-consumption restrictions on the Bluestone.

“We do have a restriction on carp and ask people to limit themselves to one meal a month with fish caught in the river,” Wirtz said. “We have similar restricting on fishing in the river as well. Generally, we advise people to stay out of the water after a heavy rain as sewer and stormwater systems can put contaminants into the water during that time.”

Eating fish caught in the river is not the only health issue residents should be aware of. Frazier said the DEQ is also advising residents to be a cautious if using the river source of water recreation, such as swimming and boating.

“There is E. coli in the water, which can lead to hospitalization for anyone with an open wound or compromised immune system,” Frazier said. “These people could be put at risk if they swim in the water. Typically, normal healthy people will not have as much of a problem.”

Though the Bluestone is also the main water source for the town of Bluefield, Va., Frazier said the town’s water plant and the Virginia Department of Health regularly monitor the water to prevent contaminants from getting into the water supply.

Wirtz said the West Virginia DEP does their own monitoring of conditions in the Bluestone, which is also a water source for many West Virginia residents in the New River Watershed.

“We did a detailed monitoring in 2004 to 2005 and developed our clean up plan for the whole watershed,” Wirtz said. “As far as long-term monitoring, we don’t really do much. We do similar testing to what is done in Virginia, but on a different time frame. Our standards are also different, but only slightly. We use a similar test to pick up contaminants. We try to keep things clean through monitoring and clean up plans. We also work with the county health department to monitor drinking water quality. Of course, we can’t go out and police everything that goes into the river.”

E. coli and fecal coliform in water sources like the Bluestone River can be caused by fecal waste from humans and livestock, malfunctioning septic tanks, faulty treatment plans, stormwater runoff, boat waste, wildlife, pets, sewage discharge and others.

“We have already identified some sources of pollution at the Lin Electric site in Bluefield, Va. where the EPA has been working to clean and treat bacteria,” Frazier said.

“The bacteria levels are high in the river and that is caused by a variety of factors from people dumping sewage to cows and farm animals getting into the river to faulty septic tanks. It’s a combination of various factors causing all of the pollution.”

Frazier said the DEQ will be working with area residents to identify where pollution is coming from and how to stop it.

“We are going to work on an implementation plan that will require some money and citizen involvement,” Frazier said. “At some point, we will have to have a public meeting on the issue. We want people in the area to come out and help us fix things.”

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