The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection now believes a golden algae bloom is linked to a large fish kill on Dunkard Creek, in northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. DEP staff members investigating the incident narrowed down the causes of the fish kill after consulting with algae experts from West Virginia University, North Carolina and Texas.
The algae found in Dunkard Creek has been tentatively identified as Prymnesium parvum, commonly called golden algae, which occurs worldwide, but primarily in coastal waters that have higher salt or mineral content. The algae produces toxins that can affect gill-breathing organisms and the most visible result of a fish kill caused by golden alga is dead and dying fish and mussels of all species and sizes.
The characteristics of the fish kill are almost identical to what is seen in other parts of the country that also have had golden algae kills.
"Narrowing down the cause will allow us and anyone who may be found to be responsible to find a solution, " said Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman. "Some members of our investigation team are now turning their attention to finding ways to minimize or eliminate the algae bloom. We are also evaluating what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future, in Dunkard and other watersheds."
All available information indicates that golden algae is not known to cause human health problems, and no immediate harmful effects have been recorded in mammals and birds observed eating dead and dying fish and drinking the water in areas with golden algae.
To avoid the possibility of spreading the algae, the DEP requests that all entities refrain from transporting water from Dunkard Creek to other watersheds.
"While it appears that saline- and mineral-rich environments are conducive to the growth of the golden algae in Dunkard Creek, we aren't sure if the algae was introduced into the creek or if it just proliferated due to favorable conditions," Huffman said. "It could have been transplanted in a number of ways, including waterfowl, water transport or even waders of fishermen who have fished in affected waters in other states."
While the DEP understands that it may be difficult to determine how the algae came to be in Dunkard Creek, the agency acknowledges the severity of the situation and is committed to continue to work with the other involved agencies to determine the extent of damage and what can be done to control the problem.