Group urges state to clean up Susquehanna River in light of fish tumor discovery

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - A group of river enthusiasts is urging the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to clean up the Susquehanna River in light of the discovery earlier this month of a fish that developed a malignant tumor.

“To see something like this, I think everybody knows something is wrong with the river,” Michael Helfrich, of the Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna, said.

That's why the group is hoping the state Department of Environmental Protection places the Susquehanna on the state's list of impaired waterways, prompting the state to work toward clean-up.

Activists point to the state’s fishing guide to demonstrate how dire the pollution situation is in the Susquehanna.

“As you read down through, they talk about mercury, PCB, and they talk about eating one fish a month? There's something wrong with that,” William Cornell, founder of the Susquehanna River School educational program, said.

Scientists say they have observed changes in some of the fish over the last ten years, mostly involving either small cuts or internal sexual mutations, but nothing to the extent of the picture seen recently.

“I think [the DEP is] surprised too how this fish was caught, and when something like this happens, it brings it to your attention,” state Rep. Sue Helm, (R- Dauphin), said. “Maybe we should have been looking at it before. We didn't, but now is time to do it.”

The state says it is looking into the concerns to see if any immediate action is needed.

“We continue to work in partnership with [the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission] to use a science-based approach to determining the causes of impacts to fish health in the Susquehanna,” DEP acting Secretary John Quigley said in a statement. “Our biological studies include assessments of fish, aquatic insects, mussels, and algae. Science will guide all of our work in assessing the overall health of the river.”

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say chemicals from agricultural runoff are polluting the water upstream, Helfrich said.

The group hopes this photo serves as a wake-up call that action is needed now.

“For ten years, they've known this river is polluted and affecting the fish,” Cornell said. “For ten years and it's only gotten worse, it's not gotten better. It's time to quit studying and start acting.”