UPDATE: State Questions Town's Explanation Of Fish Deaths

May 17, 2018

Updated May 18

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality says the town of White Lake's statements about what might have caused a recent fish kill are misleading the public.

The town recently used the chemical alum in an attempt to bring down pH levels and reduce algae blooms. Hundreds of fish were found dead on the shore of the lake in Bladen County shortly after the treatment started.

Town spokesman Mike McGill said earlier this week the state had concluded that the algae bloom was responsible for the fish kill. But Jim Gregson of DEQ's Division of Water Resources sent a letter to the town that called parts of that statement inaccurate or misleading. 

Gregson's original letter from May 10 points to the algae bloom and high pH levels, but does not make the conclusion as described in McGill's statement.

The press release, written by McGill, says "In a letter sent to the town last week, state officials detailed how scientists had reviewed fish necropsy results, as well as data from water quality samples, and concluded the fish did not die due to the alum treatment but because of the algal bloom."

Gregson says that is inaccurate.

"...It appears that fish mortality may not be a direct result of the alum treatment but possibly be the result of the ongoing algal bloom in the lake and associated elevated pH in the water column," the letter says.

"We went on to say that based on the timing of the fish kill, it's possible that the alum treatment placed additional stress on the already impacted fish, but the confirmation of that was not evident in the data," Gregson said, reading from the letter in an interview on Friday.

Jim Gregson's letter to the town of White Lake, dated May 10, 2018, allowing the town to resume alum treatment after halting it due to a fish kill
Credit North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

"If you look at that [May 10 DEQ] release, you can take it in a lot of directions, but one thing that's constant is there isn't any data that ties the alum to the fish kill," McGill said in an interview Friday.

A necropsy report from N.C. State University is also inconclusive, but left open the possibility that alum had an impact. "Combined with the stresses caused by probable wide fluctuations in dissolved oxygen due to the algae bloom, it is possible that acute exposure to Alum in this case was a cause of this multi-species fish kill in White Lake, NC," it says.

McGill says he released his Tuesday statement before the necropsy was made public, but he continues to stand by it. He said there have been no reports of any other dead fish since the town finished the treatment. 

White Lake is hosting its annual Water Festival from Friday through Sunday.