UPDATED: Sulphuric acid leak kills fish in North River

  • Barnhardt Manufacturing is located along the North River in Colrain. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • This fish was observed dead in the North River around 12:30 p.m. Sunday. COURTESY ERIC HALLORAN

  • Barnhardt Manufacturing Company between Route 112 and the North River in Colrain. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Barnhardt Manufacturing Company between Route 112 and the North River in Colrain. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The North River empties into the Deerfield River in Shelburne. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • This fish was observed dead in the North River around 12:30 p.m. Sunday. COURTESY ERIC HALLORAN

  • A sulphuric acid leak reportedly was the cause of a fish kill in the North River this weekend. COURTESY CHARLES RICKO

  • A sulphuric acid leak reportedly was the cause of a fish kill in the North River this weekend. COURTESY CHARLES RICKO

  • A sulphuric acid leak reportedly was the cause of a fish kill in the North River this weekend. COURTESY CHARLES RICKO

  • A sulphuric acid leak reportedly was the cause of a fish kill in the North River this weekend. COURTESY CHARLES RICKO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2019 1:33:56 PM

COLRAIN — A sulphuric acid leak reportedly was the cause of a fish kill in the North River this weekend.

David Slowick, section chief for emergency response for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the leak came from a tank at the Barnhardt Manufacturing Company at about 3 a.m. Sunday. He described the leak as “not catastrophic” because the acid that dripped from the tank was contained in a holding area. However, some spray made contact with the side of the building and dripped down the raceway toward the North River. Barnhardt manufactures bleached cotton fiber products.

DEP and the state Division of Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife responded to the site and conducted testing along the stream. The acid flowed downstream from the plant to where the North River joins the Deerfield River at a spot commonly known as Sunburn Beach. The leak occurred days short of the 20th anniversary of another acid spill in the North River.

Slowick said the acid lowers the water’s pH level, burning a fish’s gills. He noted that while there were dead fish Sunday, live ones were spotted in the river. He said tests taken today indicate pH levels in the river have returned to normal.

Slowick said Barnhardt Manufacturing has transferred the acid from the tank and neutralized surfaces. The company will be required to conduct follow-up reports with DEP. Attempts to contact the company Monday were unsuccessful.

Eric Halloran, vice president of Deerfield River Watershed Trout Unlimited, is believed to be the first person to report the dead fishes. Halloran said he was doing siding work on his house along the North River shortly after noon Sunday when he started to see dead fish in and near the water.

He said he stopped what he was doing and walked upstream to investigate, discovering thousands of dead fish during his trek. He mentioned, however, the west side of the river appeared fine and the trouble seemed to be on the east side.

Halloran said he first called environmental police, which he said spoke with the fish and wildlife division, which sent a biologist to the scene.

He said he saw dead dace, bass, trout, and longnose suckers, which according to the state’s website is one of 10 species of freshwater fishes protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act enacted in December 1990.

Mark Crossman, who has lived on the river in Colrain for 30 years, said he is furious he and his neighbors were not informed by Barnhardt about the leak. He said he, his children, grandchildren and the family dogs regularly swim in the river.

“You killed everything in our river and you didn’t tell us. You could have killed us,” he said Monday. “If it was a hot day yesterday, we’d have been in the water.”

Crossman said he saw hundreds, if not thousands, of dead fish.

“Everything is dead,” he said.

Zariah Ross, Crossman’s daughter, said she grew up swimming in the river. She said she now lives less than 100 yards from her father and from the river. She said her two daughters were devastated to see clusters of dead little fish in the water. Like her father, Ross is upset nearby residents were not alerted about the acid leak.

Charles Ricko, owner of the Overwatch Outpost fly fishing shop and fishing guide service in Charlemont, said he also saw thousands of dead fish in the river.

“It’s quite a tragedy, actually,” he said early Monday afternoon. “Every single thing in that river is dead, from that mill down to the Deerfield River. I did not see a single live fish. … I didn’t even see any live insects.”

He said he is worried about the effects the acid leak could have on bald eagles, kingfishers, raccoons and other wildlife that drink from the river and eat its fish. He was alerted to the fish die-off by a customer who asked if he had heard about an algal bloom, which can kill fish.

Ricko said he is also concerned about his business. He said the Deerfield River, which the North River dumps into, is one of the top fly fishing rivers in the country right now.

According to the state’s website, a truck released 670 gallons of sulfuric acid into the North River in Colrain on Sept. 3, 1999, and MassWildlife found dead and dying fish up to 2.6 miles downstream of the spill. Fish species included trout, salmon, smallmouth bass, American eel, common shiner, dace, white sucker and darter. Massachusetts settled claims with the responsible parties for $28,125 in 2003.

The Barnhardt Manufacturing Company factory at 247 Main Road in Colrain was also the site of a May 2018 fire.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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