Archive for Thursday, April 21, 2011

KDHE health advisory reaches 1 week after waste spill near Basehor

April 21, 2011

A health advisory caused by a waste spill from a dairy farm south of Basehor remains in effect a week after it was initially issued for the area around Hog Creek.

The advisory will continue until at least early next week after Kansas Department of Health and Environment test results released Wednesday showed high levels of E. Coli bacteria in the creek for the second week in a row.

KDHE issued the health advisory Wednesday, April 13, for residents near the portion of the creek between 158th Street and Kansas Avenue, south of Basehor, and 171st Street and Parallel Road, west of Basehor.

The inquiry into the creek's contamination began on Sunday, April 10, when residents spotted a group of dead fish in a section of the creek running through their property along 166th Street south of U.S. Highway 24-40, Leavenworth County emergency management director Chuck Magaha said.

Magaha said that when he inspected the area the next day, the creek water had a rust-like red color, and he spotted several large catfish dead. The red color, he said, stretched upstream from there to a tributary near 158th Street and Kansas Avenue.

The red color is what drew the attention of one of the residents who noticed the dead fish. The resident asked the Sentinel not to publish her name for fear that her reporting of the incident might provoke retaliation.

To her, the water appeared bloody, she said.

“It looked like something got slaughtered way upstream and came down to us,” she said.

After noticing the color, she spotted fish in the creek flaring their gills and other creatures in the water behaving strangely, she said.

“They were just all gasping,” the resident said. “Crawdads were crawling out of the water. They wouldn't stay in it. Tadpoles, they were upside-down.”

After walking farther upstream, she said, she spotted 10 to 15 fish floating upside-down as well, dead in the water.

KDHE staff also inspected the area Monday, April 11, and found 54 dead fish, including 28 minnows, 18 bluegill and 8 channel catfish that ranged from 12 to 15 inches in length, said Miranda Myrick, KDHE communications director.

The advisory will stay in effect until KDHE workers detect normal concentrations of E. Coli bacteria, Myrick said. KDHE detected high levels of E. Coli in a sample taken from the creek April 13, she said, and samples drawn this week continued to show higher-than-normal E. Coli levels. KDHE plans to test water samples from the creek again on Monday, she said.

“Until we can ensure that the water is back to normal conditions, the advisory remains in effect,” Myrick said.

Residents should avoid contact with the creek and ensure pets and livestock keep away from the water as well, Myrick said.

Magaha said the county's primary concern was for any livestock that may drink out of the creek. About 30 parcels of property lie along the affected portion of the creek, he said, and the county contacted landowners with agricultural interests to warn them about the contamination.

“We just didn't want animals drinking out of it,” Magaha said.

Magaha said the contamination originated from a dairy farm near 158th Street and Kansas Avenue.

The owner of the farm had a permit to pump cattle waste from a retention pond onto his property for use as fertilizer, Magaha said, but some part of that pumping process had gone awry, causing the waste to spill into a stream that flows into Hog Creek.

The discharge had been stopped when KDHE issued its advisory April 13, a KDHE release said.

Myrick said KDHE workers were continuing to investigate the cause and extent of the waste spill, and they did not yet know how much had been spilled or how long the spill lasted.

Hog Creek was also the subject of a KDHE advisory regarding E. Coli levels in 2008, when the City of Basehor's primary sewer force main broke and spilled sewage into the creek. That advisory was lifted after a little more than a week.

Myrick said last week's incident and the 2008 advisory were unrelated.

E. Coli can cause infections ranging from mild to severe or life-threatening, Myrick said. Symptoms vary from person to person, and they can include stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody and vomiting. Fevers associated with E. Coli infection are usually lower than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, she said, and infections usually last five to seven days.

For more information on the health advisory, residents can contact the KDHE Bureau of Water at (785) 296-5500.

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