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VIDEO: Dead fish near our treatment plant? It’s nature and temperature, not pollution.

Are we poisoning fish by releasing polluted water into the Cuyahoga River? Contrary to the YouTube video’s inaccurate captions above, we are not.

We were alerted to this video today, a clip that was posted to YouTube January 31 with the title, “NEORSD sewage kills fish in Cuyahoga River.” The title and captions were incorrect, but the occurrence is worth a closer look to understand the issues and results.

The simple answer: This kind of fish die-off is a natural event at this time of year, not a result of sewage pollution in our effluent. It comes down to water temperature and temperature-sensitive fish.

It’s not the first time we’ve responded to similar calls. This newsletter from 2007 [PDF] lays out some of the basics about the causes and frequency of these die-offs, but the images below help explain the latest event.

Finding the fish

This photo shows the approximate location of the video. It’s where our the treated water from our Southerly Wastewater Treatment Center is released to the Cuyahoga River. While our effluent is monitored electronically by our Southerly staff, our investigators visited the site today (located between the 001 and 002 locations above). They found fish similar to the ones in the video, and confirmed they were gizzard shad:

Shad don’t react well to dramatic temperature swings

Shad by nature are very sensitive to sudden temperature changes, and when they interact with the warmer effluent flowing from our outfall, the result is known as “thermal shock” and can result in large die-offs. The event is common across Lake Erie during seasonal events unrelated to specific discharge points. Here’s a November example from New York.

More specifically, regarding warmer discharge locations, many industries with Cuyahoga River discharge points experience similar problems on a regular basis according to our Southerly plant superintendent.

See something suspicious? How to report

We appreciate the cameraperson’s concern, but we want to be sure the details are presented accurately and reported properly. In the future, if you see something that looks like a pollution source entering the environment, contact us and we will investigate at any time. We can be reached at (216) 641-6000 M-F 8:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m., or at (216) 641-3200 after hours.

You can also contact Ohio EPA 24 hours a day at 1-800-282-9378.