An elderly Ohio couple has been charged after they allegedly dumped 55 gallons of toxic cyanide into a storm sewer, killing tens of thousands of fish and other wildlife in and along the Rocky River.
The couple, Renato Montorsi, 79, and his wife, Teresina, of Grafton, Ohio, have been criminally charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, reports Fox News.
The couple owns a coin and precious metal business, and has also previously operated a metal-plating company that used cyanide. US Attorney Steven Dettelbach spoke during a news conference on Wednesday, saying:
“Mr. Montorsi chose to use the river behind us as his own dump. Nearly every fish in a three-mile stretch — about 30,000 — was killed.”
Renato Montorsi has also been accused of violating the Clean Water Act. A massive number of dead or dying fish, along with other wildlife, began washing up on the East Branch of the Rocky River on April 22 (Earth day), prompting an investigation into the cause, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
Investigators believe that Montorsi first attempted to get rid of the highly toxic cyanide in a trash can, but that garbage collectors refused to handle the hazardous chemical. Per environmental regulations, cyanide must be disposed of only by workers who are licensed to handle it.
The couple allegedly disposed of the 55-gallon drum through a storm drain, which then filtered into the river. Crews from both federal and state agencies, as well as the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, worked together to contain and clean up the carnage caused by the toxic cyanide. They then used dye testing to determine where the chemical spill came from, and what it was.
The dead river inhabitants included rainbow and steelhead trout, small-mouth bass, minnows, shiners, rainbow darters, sunfish, shad and suckers. While none of them were big for commercial value, big-mouth shiners are on the state’s threatened species list, with a penalty of killing one standing at $1,000 per fish.
While the elderly Ohio couple was not arrested for dumping cyanide into the river, they will have to answer to the charges in a federal court in Cleveland later on.