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Study of local creeks looks for toxic chemical that could be killing fish

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 5:19 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage geochemist Birgit Hagedorn is on a mission to find out if a chemical found in tires could be killing fish in Anchorage streams. Since April, Hagedorn has been collecting water samples from local creeks and storing them in her freezer with the idea of sending the samples to an outside lab to be analyzed when she has enough money to do it.

Hagedorn’s concern comes from a recently published study from the University of Washington where researchers found a chemical compound in tires was responsible for killing coho salmon in urban creeks in that state.

Hagedorn said it’s possible the same thing could be happening here since untreated stormwater from Anchorage roads, which could contain the chemical, goes directly into local creeks.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Megan Marie said in an email the department has seen similar die-off behavior in Campbell Creek as recently as 2018, although staff aren’t sure what is causing it.

“Biologists observed pre-spawn behavior adult Coho salmon becoming stunned, actively ‘beaching’ themselves on the creek shoreline and dying,” the email said. “The observations and reports seemed to coincide with rain events, but no formal studies have been completed.”

Hagedorn said a minute amount of the chemical can be toxic to salmon but she doesn’t know how much, if any, she will find in her samples.

“This project is really just a pilot study to see if that is a problem for Anchorage,” she said. “So we just want to collect a total of 10 samples in different storm water drainages in Anchorage where we know we have a lot of traffic, and then analyze those to just get initial values.”

Analyzing the samples is pricey — $500 apiece according to the Anchorage Waterways Council. It’s why they started a GoFundMe account to pay for it. By Friday, the group had raised more than $4,000 of the total $5,500 price tag. Hagedorn said she planned to send the first samples in next week and hopefully, get some answers very soon.

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