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Region 3 Responds To Ethanol Spill On Mississippi River

Service staff from around the Midwest teamed up to provide on-site assistance and expertise as agencies responded to the February 4, 2015, train derailment and subsequent ethanol spill on the Mississippi River in Iowa. Refuge management and staff from the McGregor District of the Service’s Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge were on site during the response, supporting efforts of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency and local emergency responders. The spill, which released an estimated 55,000 gallons of ethanol from derailed train cars, occurred within several hundred feet of the McGregor District of the Refuge, raising concerns about impacts to fish, freshwater mussels, waterfowl and migratory birds and refuge lands.

Staff from the McGregor District and the Rock Island Ecological Service Office worked with responders to guide environmental monitoring efforts on the river as impacts from the spill are assessed. Service employees provided expert technical assistance, participating in surveys of the spill area and generated maps, collected ice samples, and searched open water areas for dead fish. The Service also provided an airboat to gain access to the river.

In addition, fishery biologists and contaminants experts from the Service’s Midwest Region worked with responders to identify freshwater mussels found in mud collected at the spill site. Two species of federally endangered mussels, the Higgin’s eye pearlymussel and sheepnose mussel, are known to be present near the spill area.

A week after the spill, testing indicated the vast majority of ethanol and gasoline was no longer in Pool 11. The long-term impacts of ethanol on aquatic resources are not well understood, so the Service will continue to participate with partners in monitoring the river to ensure federal trust resources are adequately protected. Monitoring of contaminant levels will continue at the derailment site. The Service expects to conduct and support additional surveys for dead fish and turtles later this spring as ice breaks up.

By Georgia Parham
Regional Office -- External Affairs

Rail cars containing ethanol derailed in early February along the Mississippi River near the McGregor District of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Rail cars containing ethanol derailed in early February along the Mississippi River near the McGregor District of Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

 

Last updated: March 5, 2015