Suffolk County health officials have warned residents to avoid touching the dead bunker baitfish that inundated the Peconic River in a massive fish kill earlier in the week.
Workers removed 10,000 pounds of dead bunker from the river on Wednesday after a massive die-off swamped the waterway and its banks with rotting fish for the second time in two weeks, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said.
People in the area should not handle any remaining fish and avoid swimming or wading in water where they are accumulating, county officials said in a news release Thursday, citing increased risks of bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Anyone who has contact with the water should wash their hands before eating, officials said.
Tim Sweat, a Greenport fisherman hired by the town board Tuesday to remove the fish, on Wednesday used a seine net to drag the bunker out of the river and deposit them near Corwell Avenue, Walter said.
Workers with Middle Island-based Go Green Environmental LLC, an environmental cleanup company, vacuumed the dead bunker into a truck and mixed them with about 1,000 pounds of lime. The resulting "gray slurry" was buried in a pit at the town landfill, Walter said.
"That lime turned them into soup," Walter said. "There was nothing recognizable. I don't think there was even bone."
Walter said the town paid 32 cents per pound -- about $3,200 -- to Sweat to remove the fish from the river, $1,200 to the cleanup company and about $4,000 for the lime.
The fish kill was the river's second in two weeks. Experts have said increased nitrogen levels contributed to the die-offs.
County officials said it was difficult to determine the risks of eating live fish caught near the die-off, but said those fish should be cooked thoroughly.