BETHLEHEM TWP, NJ (Hunterdon County) – A truck fire, that occurred just after 1 a.m. Thursday, May 5 on Route 78 eastbound at mile marker 9.8 in Bethlehem Township, resulted in a devastating fish kill in West Portal Brook, a tributary to the Musconetcong River,according to Beth Styler Barry, Executive Director, Musconetcong Watershed Association.
The truck was carrying retail packages of soaps and detergents which leaked when packages melted during the fire or were ruptured during offloading, Barry said.
Responding emergency personnel used several methods to keep the material out of a nearby storm drain that led to West Portal Brook, including construction of a dike, use of a vacuum truck and spreading sand. Despite these efforts material did enter West Portal Brook causing a “catastrophic” fish kill, Barry said.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) personnel, including an emergency response team and fish biologists, donned waders and walked West Portal Brook from the point of entry of the materials to the confluence with the Musconetcong. An estimated “thousand or more” dead eels, salamanders, dace, shiners, sculpin, wild brown trout and brook trout were observed. The presence of sculpin and wild trout are evidence of the exceptional water quality in the stream, according to a news release.
“This is a devastating loss” said Beth Styler Barry, Executive Director of the Musconetcong Watershed Association. “We will work closely with the NJDEP in the upcoming weeks and months to better understand the damage to the stream and to map out a path to restoration.” The association has several ongoing projects in West Portal Brook and will continue to monitor and provide data to NJDEP to help build a more complete picture of stream conditions before and after the spill, Barry said.
West Portal Brook is a trout production stream and classified as a Category One waterbody under the NJDEP Stormwater Regulations. This designation is given to the Musconetcong River and most of its tributaries due to their exceptional water quality, Barry said.
Soap in West Portal Brook. (Courtesy: Musconetcong Watershed Association)
Dead wild brown trout were found by the dozens in a ten foot long stretch of West Portal Brook. (Courtesy: Musconetcong Watershed Association)
(Courtesy: Musconetcong Watershed Association)
Standing in the foaming West Portal Brook MWA Executive Director, Beth Styler Barry, holds a handful of dead fish documenting a complete kill. (Courtesy: Musconetcong Watershed Association)