Veteran angler comments about Alabama’s Wheeler Lake contamination

By D.L. Gowen, Decatur, AL

Would you eat fish caught from Baker’s Creek on Wheeler Lake? I would suggest you review, inspect and test the discharge pipes of industries in the area before you do.

I have been fishing Wheeler Lake since 1964 and find the quality of fish and distribution in the lake has deteriorated over the years. I use to fish Baker’s Creek back in the 60’s and catch tons of bass – today you can hardly get a bite in the bay. I also use to fish from the railroad bridge to the dam on the left side of the lake however I no longer fish within miles of the industry discharges at Decatur along the south bank. And, I have found that fish swim from one side of the river to the other – so contamination is not a localized area. I had a Gambler bass boat at the time and the chemicals and solids from the discharges ate the gelcoat off the lower sides and bottom of the boat.

Fish that are caught in these areas today are deformed and many have sores and lesions on them. I would suggest that contamination from industry, and the Decatur Utilities Wastewater Plant, are destroying Wheeler Lake and the recreational activities of our citizens – and possibly their health. I also believe that industry discharges are the cause of the loss of milfoil and other aquatic grass in Wheeler Lake.

The mentality of pumping the toxic chemicals and solids these corporations discharge into the lake on a daily basis for dissolution and kicking it downstream must cease if we and our grandchildren have anything left of the lake. The river is being treated like a sewer. The river will smell like a sewer and it will be contaminated like a sewer.

I would suggest to industries and, governmental units like Decatur Utilities Wastewater Plant, to prevent misconception and confusion. Suggestions of contamination of the river by citizens, like myself, prompt the involved parties to become totally transparent and publish and post the type and amount of all chemicals and solids discharged into the river and the strength of the discharge on a daily, monthly and annual basis for everyone to see and consider.

I read the “Foundation of Decatur” article in the February 27 Decatur Daily, especially the comments of former Mayor Lynn Fower, about the industrial development since 1960 on our riverfront. While Fowler is correct about economic development, he failed to mention the failure of having adequate protection in place to protect our environment and the price we are paying for its destruction.


A February 27, 2017 story in the Decatur Daily, “Industrial chemicals may endanger fish,” written by staff writer Evan Belanger delves into the PFOS and PFOA contamination in the Decatur area of Wheeler Lake.

In the story the author reports, “What is known is that the Alabama Department of Public Health has issued advisories regarding the consumption of fish based on the accumulation of one of the chemicals, PFOS, in fish species. (Click HERE to see the complete report.)

The public should limit their consumption of all fish species taken from Baker’s Creek to one meal per month, ADPH said in its most recent advisory last year. Lawsuits allege Baker’s Creek is where 3M discharged wastewater containing PFOS and PFOA.

The ADPH advisory is an improvement from 2012, when the department advised that no fish should be eaten from Baker’s Creek. ADPH also advised last year that consumption of largemouth bass taken from the main river channel in certain parts of Morgan and Limestone counties should be limited to one meal per month.

Because the human health effects of the chemicals and what constitutes safe levels are not well understood, the advisory is not an actual restriction and is designed merely to make the public aware of EPA research so people can make their own decisions, said Dr. Scott Harris, assistant state health officer with ADPH.”

Additionally, Belanger quoted David Whiteside, Tennessee Riverkeeper, as saying, …”the chemicals already present in the environment do not break down in nature and are known to bioaccumulate in fish. They (PFOS and PFOA) are still being emitted into the river by contaminated properties and landfills,”


The PFOS/PFOA issue has been known for 15 – 20 years. My opinion is people in positons of authority can be influenced with the flow of money to ignore an issue.

Alabama (Decatur and Wheeler Lake on top of the list) has one of the highest rates of subsistence fishing in the country. In 2016, the Alabama Department of Public Health issued Fish Consumption Advisories for nearly every river in Alabama. Unsafe fish account for more than 100 of the 230 listings on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s 303(d) impaired waters listing. Gaining access to this information is difficult, with the advisories buried on Department of Public Health website and on ADEM’s EFile pages. Fisherman without access to the internet have no other options to access the important information for the health of themselves and their families. Alabama’s state motto is “We Dare To Defend Our Rights”, yet currently, our fishermen and their families don’t have a right to know where fish consumption advisories are in their local waterways. SOURCE: Fish_advisory_update_2016

Major studies with effective prevention/protection compliance policies are badly needed. When contaminators are faced with litigation, or negative press, the first response is usually, “We were in compliance with rules and regulations of ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmenal Management). I expect any clean-up and prevention of contamination will most likely be borne by the taxpayers.

Without totally independent and unbaised studies conducted by competent, uninfluenced institutions,the effect of PFOs and PFOAs on the population and environment will never be complete. I doubt the perpetrators will ever be assessed the cost of cleaning the land and water If contamination is determined to be toxic to the detriment of our citizens.

Decatur and Wheeler Lake may be worse that Love Canal – and we just do not know it.

(Ed.-Readers may want to review two prior articles regarding PFOS and PFOA posted on the Southern Fishing News site located here: Part of Wheeler Lake “Toxified”: What now; One Year Later: Toxins Discovered In Wheeler Lake; Commentary On PFOS Part One: What Is PFOS and Are There Any Dangers;  Commentary On PFOS Part Two: PFOS and the Fisherman.)

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