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Carp kill chemical can cause convulsions, depression

New York conservation teams apply Rotenone to waterways
New York conservation teams apply Rotenone to waterways
photo from New York Conservation Division

Are you having trouble catching your breath today? Got the blues? Do you feel a little shaky?

Do you live near the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal?

The chemical Rotenone, with which crews soused the Chicago Shipping Canal yesterday, can spawn Parkinson-like symptoms. Breathing high doses of it may trigger gasping spells, depression and even convulsions, according to information from the Resource Guide to Organic Insect and Disease Management.

As crews today sweep up thousands of fish floating belly up, people are looking for answers about the pesticide federal and state conservation officials shot into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to keep the Asian carp from breaking into Lake Michigan.

Last night, The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S, Army Corps of Engineers shot Rotenone, a powerful pesticide, into a five-mile stretch of the canal between the Lockport Locks and 135th Street in Romeoville to keep Asian Carp from breaking into Lake Michigan
while they cut power to electric barrier for maintenance work.

Ingesting Rotenone can cause mild irritation to vomiting. Inhalation of high doses can cause increased respiration followed by depression and convulsions. Long-term exposure to powdered rotenone containing plant materials can bring on dermatitis, ulcers in the nose, and irritation of mucous membrane, according to the World Health Organization.

Yet even staunch of environmentalists are calling the carp kill necessary.

“It would be an absolute disaster if Asian Carp got into the Great Lakes. I think that the DNR's plans here are probably warranted,” Max Muller, director of Environment Illinois, told Chicago Page One Examiner.

Though scientists in the first half of the 20th century targeted Rotenone as safer alternative to the lead- and arsenic-based pesticides, later studies showed it was more toxic than originally thought, according to a 2000 study raises questions over whether the chemical may spawn Parkinson-like symptoms. Before that, 1992 studies showed Rotenone can seep into other living creatures not only by swallowing, but also by breathing, the resource guide information says.

A 2000 study showed rats exposed to continuous intravenous rotenone at a rate of 2-3 ppm displayed degenerative neurological symptoms nearly identical to Parkinson’s disease. The project, designed to create research tools for Parkinson’s, raised serious questions about whether exposure to rotenone could lead to neurological damage that scientists have yet to resolve.

Inhalation of high doses can cause breathing problems, followed by depression and convulsions. Effects of the pesticide on the body include eye and skin irritations, sore throat, and congestion. Ingestion can cause mild irritation to vomiting.

Humans and animals absorb Rotenone fairly slowly through the stomach and intestines relatively slowly but fats and oils speed up the process. The liver breaks down the compound fairly effectively. Animals systems can eliminate about a fifth of ingested, and probably absorbed, Rotenone may be eliminated from animal systems within 24 hours, according to research done by a collaboration of five university-based teams.

Rotenone dissipates quickly and workers are adding the neutralizing agent known as potassium permanganate after the application, the IDNR says. 

But electric fences and killing chemicals may not be enough to stop the pesky carp. Last month, the state DNR found Asian carp had broken through an electric barrier south of the O’Brien Lock. Among all the hundreds of thousands of fish trucked to landfills so far today, workers have found no Asian Carp.