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In observance of the Presidents Day holiday, the Telegraph and Daily Gazette newspapers will not be published February 18. Breaking news and information will be updated on

Ethanol spill likely cause of fish kill: EPA continues probe into contamination

The massive fish kill that swept through the Rock River on Father’s Day appears to be the result of an ethanol spill, officials said on Monday.

Related link — Fishermen try to save large, 
poisoned catfish from death.

A train carrying 50,000 gallons of ethanol derailed near Rockford Friday evening. Much of the highly flammable liquid burned off in a daylong fire, said Mick Hans, a spokesman with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Still, some quantity of the fluid seeped into a small creek near the site, he said. That creek feeds into the Kishwaukee River, which feeds into the Rock River.

The Department of Natural Resources on Sunday reported that the kill stretched between Grand Detour and the lower dam in Sterling.

By Monday, though, the kill had extended beyond Sterling. Stacey Solano, a DNR spokeswoman, said biologists found dead turtles and fish – carp and catfish – south of Erie.

DNR biologists will continue down the river, counting carcasses, “until they stop seeing dead fish,” Solano said. The DNR also will assess the financial loss to commercial fishermen.

The EPA, meanwhile, will continue its investigation – collecting water and soil samples – throughout the week, Hans said.

Hans didn’t know whether other animals, such as deer and raccoons, were affected by the spill. He also wasn’t yet sure whether a cleanup would be necessary.

“Sometimes the best thing to do is let [the ethanol] dilute,” Hans said.

Joe Dyer, a professional fishing guide and the owner of a Rock Falls bait shop, said he hopes the damage to the river’s ecosystem isn’t irreparable.

“I just hope it didn’t kill every single fish in this river. It’s devastating; it’s wiped it,” said Dyer, who has been fishing the Rock for 45 years. “Never seen nothing like this, nope.”

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