Gov. Mills E. Godwin extended the ban on commercial fishing in the Kepone-contaminated lower James River yesterday, and said there is apparently no way to clean up the river "unless a miracle occurs."
The toxic pesticide has settled into the silt in the river bed, contaminating organisms that fish feed on, according to William F. Gilley, executive director of the state's Kepone becomes absorbed in the ecological system of the river, the more unlikely it becomes that it will decompose and disappear, Gilley said.
Bans on fishing in the James River have been in effect off and on since December, 1975. Under the new ban, Godwin said there can be no commercial fishing except for catfish, herring, shad, baby eels, turtles, oysters and female crabs.
Kepone, a pesticide used primarily to kill banana and potato plant pests, was manufactured in Hopewell 1966 to 1974 and was form the manufacturing process were dumped into the James River. This has created a problem and Godwin said yesterday was the most perplexing in his career.
Gilley said fish from the James River were sampled three times this spring, and each sampling showed an increased level of Kepone in the fish. "The longer they feed, the higher the concentration of Kepone," Gilley explained. "More than half the fish in our last sample exceeded the action level set by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)."
The "action level" is the point at which the FDA considers the fish unsafe to eat.
"This progressive increase is a repeat of last summer," Gilley said. "What it tells me is that there is a continuing mass of Kepone in the river system . . . We need to go through the season to see if the same patterns occur all the way through. If there is no appreciable drop-off there's a good likelihood it could happen again next year."
Gilley said Godwin has authorized the task force to study ways to - at least - control the spread of Kepone absorption in the river's ecological system.