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Environmental advocates ask feds to investigate Red Oak fertilizer spill

Red Oak fertilizer spill
Posted at 9:57 PM, Apr 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-17 22:57:12-04

RED OAK, Iowa (KMTV) — The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club wants the EPA to investigate a massive fertilizer spill into the East Nishnabotna River. The environmental group argues that the federal agency has more enforcement power than the state.

It’s been more than a month since a liquid fertilizer spill from NEW Cooperative killed three-quarters of a million fish in the East Nishnabotna River.

I’m your southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter, Katrina Markel, in Red Oak, looking into what happens next…

It was a big spill; 1,500 tons — that’s 265,000 gallons — of liquid nitrogen fertilized released from a storage tank at NEW Cooperative in Red Oak.

It flowed into the nearby river, killing ALL the fish for 50 miles to the Missouri border. And then more fish … until it reached the Missouri River.

Now, the Iowa Sierra Club chapter wants the EPA to investigate. Vice Chair Tom Reardon is a Council Bluffs resident and he says there’s only so much state agencies can do

“The EPA has, I guess you’d call them, stronger enforcement powers. And Iowa, Iowa has a history of not really enforcing their environmental regulations very heavily.”

Reardon says the Sierra Club can’t get involved with every environmental concern, but it did in in this case because: the size of the spill, the toll it took on aquatic life, and the fact that the East Nishnabotna is a popular spot for recreation.

The vast majority of fish killed were bait fish, especially minnows, according to the DNR fisheries report. A staff member explained that it was early enough in the year that the large, game species favored by fishers were overwintering in the Missouri River and not in the affected tributary. Scientists expect the fish population to naturally return.

I reached out to NEW Cooperative, about the Sierra Club letter, but have yet to hear back. The Sierra Club is requesting the EPA and the Iowa Attorney General to pursue both civil and criminal action against NEW Cooperative for what they say is a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.