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pearl river fish kill 04St. Tammany parish has declared a State of Emergency after thousands of fish turn up dead in the Pearl River. Temple Inland, the Paper mill facility in Bogalusa unofficially blamed, has been shut down since Saturday, and now they’re apologizing. WGNO’s Vanessa Bolano has more.

Over the years the Pearl River and the beauty surrounding it has taken a beating. “Here on the Pearl River was where the eye of Katrina made landfall and the biggest storm surge,” remembers Andy Baker with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

The environment has slowly been recovering, but now what looks like a man made event may reset the clock.

St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis says, “We’re telling people not to fish the Pearl, not to swim in the Pearl, and to certainly stay away from the dead fish if you see them.”

A 40 mile long plume has killed thousands of fish by depleting their oxygen supple. The first dead fish was reported Saturday. DEQ Scientist Jeff Dauzat says they have yet to place the blame on the plant, but Temple Inland has issued an apology writing:

Predictive testing for Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) indicated that the Bogalusa mill would exceed its maximum daily permit levels for discharge to the Pearl River from the mill’s waste-water treatment facility. The Company believes that this exceedance may have depleted the oxygen level in part of the river below that necessary to sustain a healthy fish population and resulted in a fish kill. On Saturday, August 13, 2011, upon receiving the results of predictive testing, Temple-Inland immediately shut down the mill. The Company promptly informed the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) of the situation and began taking corrective actions to restore the water quality of the River. Temple-Inland’s Chairman and CEO Doyle R. Simons said, “The health of the Pearl River and surrounding communities are our utmost concerns. Temple-Inland has a strong environmental record and we sincerely regret this incident, which is contrary to our culture of good community stewardship as both an employer and a resident of Bogalusa and the State of Louisiana.

Dauzat says, “Out Louisiana system of rivers is very resilient. The upper stretches have already returned, so we anticipate within several days the sludge will have moved out.”

A ride down river with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundations reveals more good news near the Rigolets; no dead fish today, yet UNO Biologist Michael Poirrier says, “One of the things I study are freshwater sponges, which are extremely sensitive to adverse environments and something like this could eliminate them.”