Report says Asian carp barrier is harmful to humans

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About 25 miles south of Chicago lies a stretch of water that nothing lives in. And if you happen upon it, the Coast Guard will not save you.

It’s not pollution or overfishing that has wiped out nearly everything except for insects and bacteria here, it’s electricity. At the river bottom there are multiple 160-foot wide grids of electrodes issuing 2.3 volts per inch every 2.5 milliseconds.

The Chicago Electric Dispersal Barrier was implemented to repel fish traveling up the shipping and sanitary canals to the Great Lakes, according to a blog in Discover Magazine that points out the barriers are potentially fatal to humans as well.

Specifically, the barrier’s voltage was meant to turn away Asian carp — a voracious invasive species that most worry would destroy Great Lakes fisheries. And the electricity does its job. It turns away larger fish and so far the Great Lakes have not been overrun.

Much has been written about the expensive electric barriers and their overall effectiveness. The practice recently has been questioned, as researchers found Asian carp DNA floating upward of the barriers.

But as Kyle Hill points out in the magazine, people who venture into this stretch of water are “on your own.”

As an undergraduate studying environmental engineering, Hill heard a professor joke that the fish barrier was “the only stretch of water that the Coast Guard won’t save you from.”

Only a fence separates a child or foolish adult from electrified water, Hill writes.

“According to safety reports, if you swim at almost any point within the range of the electric barriers that span the channel, you risk either involuntary muscles contractions or ventricular fibrillation,” Hill said.

Once you are in range, the barrier’s electric pulses hijack your nervous system. Your muscles respond to the outside shock the way they respond to the electrical architecture your body is made up of, only much more violently. Needless to say, if you had to swim and breathe to stay alive, not being able to control your muscles, breathe or maintain a steady heartbeat would be problematic.

As such, the entire area is a no-go zone not just for civilians, but for the Coast Guard, as well.