Merck research-plant chemicals kill fish in Pa.

PHILADELPHIA — Drugmaker Merck & Co.'s research facility in
West Point, Pa., dumped a chemical compound that included cyanide into
the sewer system, killing more than 1,000 fish in Wissahickon
Creek, federal authorities said recently.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said during a federal
and state investigation, Merck came forward to disclose that a
vaccine research facility released about 25 gallons of potassium
thiocyanate into the sewer on the morning of June 13.

"This appears to be the main cause of the fish kill,'' said Jon
Capacasa, director of the water protection division for the EPA's
mid-Atlantic region. The compound "reacted in a bad way with the
chlorination system and created a chemical that was very toxic to
the fish.''

Potassium thiocyanate is used for making industrial chemicals,
pharmaceuticals and pesticides.

Merck spokeswoman Connie Wickersham said the drugmaker believes
proper procedures for waste disposal of the chemicals were not
followed. She said chemicals should have been treated and rendered
"neutral'' at Merck's own waste treatment facility before being
released into the sewer.

"We haven't determined whether it was an employee or a
mechanical failure,'' she said.

Capacasa said penalties could go as high as $32,500 for each
violation, per day, under the Clean Water Act. The agency is trying
to determine whether violations have occurred.