Toxic Algae Re-emerges Near Dunkard Creek, Site of Fish Kill

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
18 June 2011
By Olivia Garber

Golden algae found in a pond 100 feet away from Dunkard Creek has prompted environmental officials to monitor the creek, fearing a repeat of the 2009 waterway crisis in which toxins released from the algae triggered a massive fish kill.

The Pennsylvania and West Virginia Departments of Environmental Protection began testing the 43-mile stretch of water along the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border after staff from Consol Energy made the discovery during a routine sampling on June 9.

So far, the golden algae has yet to have a toxic effect on the unnamed pond, nor has it spread to Dunkard Creek.

Both departments will continue to monitor the bodies of water.

Although the DEP has had experience stemming from the 2009 outbreak, the circumstances surrounding the pond in Greene County, Pa., are somewhat puzzling. Experts determined that discharge from a Consol mine treatment facility contributed to the toxic outbreak in 2009, but no discharge flows into the pond.

An agreement with the DEP requires Consol to test Dunkard Creek periodically, and workers noticed that the nearby pond had a golden hue, prompting them to test it.

Ron Schwartz, assistant regional director of the southwest regional office for the Pennsylvania DEP, said that because the pond is not hydraulically connected to Dunkard Creek, it's unlikely the golden algae would spread. But if there is a heavy rain, the pond could overflow into Dunkard Creek.

The DEP is working to make sure the algae does not reach a point where it starts releasing toxins, although it is not quite sure what that point is.

Kathy Cosco, spokeswoman for the West Virginia DEP, said there is not one trigger for golden algae toxins.

Still, Mr. Schwartz does not think the golden algae poses much threat.

Because of the lack of stream flow and low pH levels necessary for the algae's survival, "I don't think the algae will survive very long," Mr. Schwartz said. Unlike the flowing Dunkard Creek, the isolated pond is small and stagnant.

This would allow the sun to degrade the toxins.

Mr. Schwartz calls golden algae an "invasive species" since it's not native to the Northeast and hypothesized that the current bloom was carried in by wildlife or the wind.

Olivia Garber: 412-263-1985 or