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Pollutants eyed in R.I. fish kill

Report cites ways to prevent repeat

PROVIDENCE -- Last month's mammoth fish kill in Greenwich Bay was not an isolated event, but future kills can be prevented by aggressively reducing pollution from sources such as sewage treatment plants and septic systems, according to a report released Friday.

The report's authors from the state Department of Environmental Management wrote that enough studies have been done to identify what caused the deaths of about 1 million fish and other marine life in Greenwich Bay, a lobe on the west side of Narragansett Bay.

"It means getting more serious about pollution reduction . . .," DEM Director Jan Reitsma said in a statement.

The report was submitted to Governor Don Carcieri on Friday. Carcieri said he'd work with the DEM, local communities, and stakeholders to make good on the recommendations.

The fish, mostly juvenile menhaden or bait fish, died when oxygen levels in the water nose-dived on Aug. 20. The dead organisms were found in Apponaug and Greenwich coves and included blue crabs, grass shrimp, blackfish, and American eels. A week later, a die-off of a similar magnitude occurred with juvenile soft-shell crabs.

The report attributed the kill mainly to pollutants, such as runoff. The DEM recommended accelerating the upgrade of sewage treatment plants in the area, and hooking septic systems with municipal sewer lines or small treatment facilities.

It also called for eliminating cesspools and either preventing the direct discharge of stormwater into the bay or ensuring such runoff is treated before it is released.

The DEM recommended holding a public workshop on the fish kill in a month, and to consider new bond initiatives.

The authors noted that the health of Narragansett Bay has improved in recent years. But they wrote ecological damage from large-scale kills is not well understood, especially with bottom-dwelling organisms.

"In all likelihood, a much broader and deeper impact on the bay's ecosystem is occurring from events like this," the report stated.

One good note is that scientists don't believe adult quahogs were affected by the kills. But younger quahog species that are more vulnerable to low oxygen levels may have been affected, the authors wrote.

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