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Residents concerned as thousands of dead fish float to banks of Rouge River

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Department of Natural Resources says it’s “not an issue”


The Rouge River may not be the cleanest waterway, but what happened recently has unnerved locals, if not government officials.

The Detroit Free Press reported that thousands of silver fish have been found dead in the Rouge River. The fish, a member of the herring family called gizzard shad, have washed to the river banks in massive numbers in Detroit, stinking up the area.

But the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) informed the paper that these kinds of events, called “spring fish kills,” are naturally occurring and caused by a combination of undernourished fish from the cold months, rising temperatures, and low oxygen levels.

Naturally, residents are concerned. The Free Press learned about the mass deaths from a local who took photographs and contacted the paper. She suspected that activities at the nearby Marathon Oil refinery might be the cause.

In February this year, the refinery came under scrutiny after foul odors began emanating from the Southwest Detroit facility. Not long after, Marathon sought a variance to allow for uncovered storage of petcoke—a byproduct from refining oil that poses serious health risks when inhaled.

After complaints by residents clouds of petcoke dust, the city passed an ordinance in 2017 to prevent exactly that behavior from Marathon.