Scientist wants to determine cause of fish kills near O’Leary

Eric McCarthy
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Morgan Smallman, left and environmental scientist John Purdy explain the features of in-stream probes that will be recording numerous water quality factors in the Barclay Brook and the Little Pierre Jacques River in West Prince this summer. A study funded by CropLife Canada is trying to determine what has been causing fish deaths in the Barclay Brook in recent years.

O’LEARY — The Barclay Brook, near here, has been the scene of recurring fish kills in recent years.

Environmental scientist John Purdy wants to determine, for sure, what’s killing the fish.

“It seems to be associated with agriculture, but there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to say what about agriculture,” Purdy said in an interview near the Little Pierre Jacques River in Milburn.

“There’s always that uncertainty. Our goal is to remove that uncertainty and provide all stakeholders on all sides with good data.”

Purdy, who has been contracted by CropLife Canada to conduct a water quality study of the Barclay Brook, has established the Little Pierre Jacques as the reference stream for the project and has set up a monitoring station there.

He is also setting up three monitoring stations on the Barclay Brook: upstream, down stream and in the middle.

If something happens in the water that’s harmful to fish, Purdy is confident the scientific equipment will capture and record the events.

“Our strategy is to collect a continuous sample so there is no possibility that anything coming down the river could be missed,” Purdy explained.

All stations have two testing systems.

One is a chemistry analysis system that continuously draws water out of the stream and into a mixing pail, from which a sample is drawn and collected hourly.

Water samples will be checked for 15 different chemicals.

The second is a fully computerized in-stream probe with Bluetooth capabilities that monitors such conditions as conductivity, Ph, dissolved oxygen,

temperature, chlorophyll, ammonia and turbidity every 15 minutes.

“It’s state-of-the-art equipment. It’s got a lot of power to it and a lot of reserve capacity and back-ups,” Purdy reported.

Well over 1,000 metres of cable are needed to power the equipment. Equipment alone for the project is costing more than $50,000.

Little Pierre Jacques is part of the study, Purdy said, because it is similar to Barclay.

The system has already been pre-tested in Ontario for a month, Purdy said, adding that a parallel system is running in Ontario for the duration of the P.E.I. test, which will be conducted throughout the current growing season.

Morgan Smallman has been hired to look after the data collection equipment and to send off refrigerated samples for testing at regular intervals.

While the study is funded by chemical companies through CropLife Canada, Purdy vows he will present true data, even if it points the finger for fish kills at chemicals.

“I’m independent; I’m retired. I say what I want to say, and I’m doing the best science I can do to contribute this. For me, it’s all about integrity and good science,” he insisted.

Pierre Petelle, vice-president of chemistry with CropLife, pointed out the study design, as prepared by Purdy, has been shared with experts and with the P.E.I. ministries of Agriculture and Environment for them to scrutinize.

“We’re confident the design John has put forward is solid, defensible and the data will be what the data will be,” he said.

“The main thing is we’ve got the good science,” said Purdy.

“The data stands on the data quality, not on who paid for it.”

The goal, he said, is to remove the uncertainty on what’s causing fish deaths and provide stakeholders on all sides of the issue with good data.

“We’re not here to whitewash anything; we’re here to provide good quality science at the state-of-the-art to the best

of our ability,” Purdy commented.

Organizations: CropLife Canada, Bluetooth

Geographic location: Little Pierre Jacques River, Milburn, Ontario

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Recent comments

  • Garth Matthews
    June 23, 2014 - 21:15

    Hopefully we can trust this study....and maybe we can get the results before this Land Abuse Policy is released or Government sneaks it through while Islanders are enjoying the summer and not paying close enough attention. This so called Land Use Study was very flawed and written by farmers to protect farmers ! Lets get a land use policy from people who care more about health than making money ! This fish kill study is a step in the right direction providing its not also a farce....if any results are released that are false and found to be false later.....then these people should be jailed !

  • Ron Kelly
    June 23, 2014 - 11:26

    How does this scientist expect to obtain a true sample of activity in the river if everyone knows in advance that he's going to be doing the testing? Isn't that a bit like trying to measure the number of speeders on a certain portion of a highway and then making a public announcement beforehand that you're going to be setting up a speed trap there between 5:00 p.m. on Friday and midnight on Sunday?

  • How It Is
    June 23, 2014 - 10:07

    Croplife is the public relations wing of Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, and many other chemical companies. How can we possibly take their findings seriously? This is exactly like the tobacco industry when they did their own studies. It's just a delay tactic.

  • Bated breath
    June 23, 2014 - 09:05

    I wonder what's killing the fish? Golly gee, what a mystery!! I wait with bated breath while these pesticide industry-paid scientists help unravel the puzzle. What a crock.

  • lou lou annie
    June 23, 2014 - 07:59

    ................ said.......for heavens sake please let someone do this test that is not bias to begin with and has nothing to gain.....!!