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The Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River is Dying!


Eugene P. Macri Jr.

Aquatic and Environmental Scientist

At one time it may have been the greatest smallmouth bass river in America.  But those days may be over forever.  Contrary to the myth engendered by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission this is much more than a bump in the road. The Susquehanna is a dying ecosystem.  The neglect of one of the great rivers in the country by the state of Pennsylvania is no mystery.  Pennsylvania is number one in water pollution and number one in pollution overall, and this rating is based on analysis from their own state's data!  Pennsylvania issues more NPDES permits each year than any other state (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System).

Nature has few solutions to pollution.  But a river can only do so many things.  Rivers survive by diluting the pollutants that enter the system through the air, water, and land.  When rivers like the Susquehanna go through extended periods of drought this dramatically concentrates the pollutants in the lower, warmer volumes of water and causes a complete disruption of the biogeochemical pathways of the system.

These disruptions can cause a myriad of problems to occur including diseased fish, algal blooms which use up oxygen, and increases in perturbations like endocrine disrupters which play havoc with fishes' hormonal balance.  These endocrine disrupters come from a variety of pollutants including pesticides, flame-retardant chemicals, personal-care products, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural products.  Many products dumped into our streams often mimic or act like estrogen compounds in the water. Examples of Substances Known or Suspected to be Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

Pesticides: atrazine, 2,4-D, DDE, DDT, diazinon,

diuron, endosulfan, fenthrothion, glyphosate, lindane,

linuron, parathion, permethrin, simazine, TBT,

trifluralin, vinclozolin.

Industrial chemicals or breakdown products:

bisphenol A, dioxins, nonylphenol, PCBs, some phthalates.

Industrial chemicals or breakdown products:

bisphenol A, dioxins, nonylphenol, PCBs, some


Now just consider the chemical soup that the Susquehanna River must endure.  This chemical soup has cumulative and synergistic reactions that change normal pathways of the aquatic life.  I have put more nets and have done more studies of the waters in Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River System than anyone in the DEP or PFBC and those tributaries and waters are not getting better. They are getting worst.  I should know because I was one of the biologists who closed the hatchery on Big Spring in Newville PA.  This stream was destroyed by the pollutants from the state fish hatchery and PFBC tried to cover it up.  The DEP in this case failed to properly monitor the stream and the EPA's wavier on NPDES permits for the states resulted in such a fiasco.  Now that stream has returned to being one of the great spring creeks in America.    But this will not happen with the Susquehanna River because there is no way to turn off the faucet of pollution into the river.

I invite anyone who believes that I am picking on the PFBC and DEP to simply read through the 303 D list of impaired waters and other waters in the state of Pennsylvania (http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/watermgt/Wqp/WQStandards/303d-Report.htm#List).  Judge for yourself which streams enter the Susquehanna and what's in them.  Then ask yourself what are we protecting?  It's not the rivers...it's industry, government and corporations.

There is some form of madness in this country and this state. And it has gotten worst the last 7 years where the EPA has been totally destroyed.  So all those pollutants don't matter.  That's what we are told by the politicians, government, and corporations.  Unfortunately, they do matter and the idea that they are in too small a quantity to amount to anything is just that ....a myth.  The cumulative and synergistic effects of the chemical soup we are throwing into our rivers (and our own bodies too) is now coming to fruition.

A system is a system.  A river is a flowing ecosystem; you are a walking ecosystem.  You both have an immune system.  When your immune system is stressed, damaged etc. you get sick or diseased.  The same thing happens to a river.  The Susquehanna's immune system is overload and damaged.  It won't get better easily and considering what's coming out of the air, waters, and land emptying into the river it may never really return to it's former self because it is constantly getting impacted by so many types of pollutants its biogeochemical pathways are overwhelmed.

Both the PFBC and DEP should share equally in the blame of this destruction because they reflect the unfortunate lack of good scientific benchmarking, baselining, and biomonitoring that is needed to protect our waters.  The DEP fails to understand the cumulative and synergistic effects of all the NPDES permits that they issue in this state.

Oh, by the way in case anyone forgot including the geniuses at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation....this water will eventually get to the Bay!  Did I mention,....that the Potomac is on it's way to the same condition as the Susquehanna!

We have all failed.  We have a government that doesn't care and is run by corporations, and we have too many anglers that take everything for granted and don't wish to get involved. The economic interest of all the people who make their money off this river is hardly considered.  The loss is staggering from guiding, fishing, tourism, the food industry and even gas stations.  But no one seems to get it. This is one of the great environmental fiascos along with the Bay and it just happens to occur in the state with the most pollution.  Anymore questions! 

However, if a few of you are actually interested (including organizatons) in doing something and have some time and some coin...you know where I can be reached.  Perhaps we need a full court press approach like we used on Big Spring rather than the politically correct "no one is to blame game" now going on!