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Warning - Very Graphic Details Of Deadly Aquarium Mishap!

Discussion in 'Water Changes' started by uncle fishy, Mar 6, 2019.

  1. uncle fishy Valued Member Member

    This is a lengthy read. I just wanted to give as many details as I could in the initial post for obvious reasons.

    BEWARE of your city's water! I did a 50% water change on Monday. 50% water changes are rare - I usually do 10-20%, 2-4 times per month - but I have done "50 percenters" at least 500 times in 45+ years of keeping aquariums without ever experiencing a single problem - certainly never anything even remotely similar to this. Every now and then this just seems to rejuvenate the fish in any tank and is good for their health as it lowers nitrates like nothing else. This particular tank of Lake Malawian mouthbrooders had experienced probably 10-15 of these in 4 years and it usually just made them spawn.

    My city's water is great for rift lake cichlids and, though I do also keep plenty of of other kinds of fish, these have been my aquarium pets of "special favor" over the years. I have kept and bread hundreds of them, and the tap water here has been dead reliable for over 4 decades, until now. This time something came through the pipes and my fish immediately started going into convulsions. I could even see that they were looking straight at me, their sole provider, to do something. It was seriously horrifying.

    As soon as I noticed this I went into panic mode and started trying everything I could think of to save them, but there just isn't much you can do when your only water source is what is killing them. Besides, I don't think anything I could have done would have changed the outcome. Once it happened it was to late as far as I can tell. The fish's fins and slime coat had already begun to almost melt and they were all either in a death panic, or were obviously beyond saving the first time I noticed anything was amiss. They looked like they had been submerged in acid. I can only imagine the distress and pain they suffered. All the algae on the tank walls was also killed instantly. It immediately turned white and became very slimey to the touch. The BB in the filters died the instant I turned them back on.

    Any fish that lived past the initial several minutes obviously had suffered severe damage to their nervous systems and were dead within 2.5 days. They died in clusters per their species over the ensuing hours with yellow labidochromis and orange zebra mbunas holding out the longest. I actually thought these might pull through but it wasn't to be. 5 days before this a pair had spawned, and now all are dead.

    I will now disassemble everything, discard the gravel and ornaments, wash everything else thoroughly with dawn and water and start completely over. This has never happened to me and it was heartbreaking to experience.

    I guess it had to be a massive dose of almost pure chlorine. If not I shudder to think what it might have been. The water tested fine a few days before the event and immediately afterwards, though I don't have the means to test for chlorine or any other city-delivered toxins.

    There had been some flooding in our city a few days before this and I had seen water department trucks in our subdivision a day or two before. As a matter of fact, they had blocked off a street in the neighborhood around the same time and I had starting going a different route to enter or exit the area. This area was well downstream of us considering the location of the water treatment facility however so it never registered that it might affect me and my pets - WRONG!

    They had apparently gotten the pipes repaired and sent a everyone in the area a complimentary deadly dose of chlorine to save us from anything that may have contaminated the pipes during the lengthy repair. That's my theory anyway. And they apparently did all this just at the same moment I had decided to do a water change.

    I swear I will never again drink the water from my tap - or ANYBODY'S tap. Please be aware that a city can screw up at any time and send you poison instead of water.

    I hope this somehow helps somebody else.

  2. bizaliz3 Fishlore Legend Member

    I am so sorry this happened! I can't imagine how it must have felt when the fish were looking at you in despair!! :-( I actually got tears in my eyes when I read that part :-(

  3. WTFish? Well Known Member Member

    Oh wow, how devastating to be so helpless. I’m very sorry this happened to you! Not that it will bring your fish back but isn’t there something that can be done to prevent this? Even a lawsuit? Terrifying!

  4. Nickolouse New Member Member

    Thank you for the warning. Do you remember anything smelling different with your water? Im trying to figure out if there is anything I can do to detect such a disaster. I hope I never experience anything like this. I hate the hopeless feeling of my fish suffering with nothing more I can do to help them.
  5. uncle fishy Valued Member Member

    I never smelled a thing. Admittedly though my nose is not the best. The water looked perfectly normal too. The only signs of a problem were the fish going crazy and dying before my eyes and the the algae on the glass flashing over from greenish brown into a white color.

    I wasn't in the room when it first happened though. It was a 50% change so I was doing other things as I had plenty of time before the water was high enough to worry about it. I hadn't been away for more than 4 or 5 minutes though. My lesson from this is to be very suspect and diligent for a week or so during and after any water repair trucks are seen anywhere near my subdivision.
  6. david1978 Fishlore Legend Member

    They have strips to test for chlorine. The pool ones are cheaper but for $50 there's a digital one.
  7. Skavatar Well Known Member Member

    i hear ya. we live in a 100 yr flood plain, any extended rainfall and our streets flood. even before Hurricane Harvey we had water come very close to the house several times. The water was up to the doorstep during Harvey.

    usually after it floods we get some discoloration in the water. they always send out a notice to run our tap water for several minutes before use.
  8. Cichlidude Well Known Member Member

    Sorry to hear this. I don't see where you dosed your tank with de-chlorinator before adding water unless I missed it.
  9. uncle fishy Valued Member Member

    I got no notice. Just $350.00 in suffering and dying fish. Be very careful in your area. In reality I can say our water has been very reliable until now. Ive been doing this for around 45 years and never had a problem before.

    Good observation. Thanks.

    I did pre-treat with de-chlorinator before refilling just like I have done it thousands of other times. When I noticed the problem I also tried adding more. It was as useless as trying to turn back time. Actually, there is usually so little chlorine in our water that I know people who never even use de-chlorinator on water changes of 20% or less. One makes his living maintaining tanks in the area and does have chlorine test equipment. I've never done it but many around here do swear by it.
  10. Lovecich Valued Member Member

    What an awful experience! My sympathy goes out to you! Please keep us informed if you discover any other causes of the disaster. And I'll definitely be aware if the water treatment division is working in my neighborhood.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2019
  11. toosie Fishlore VIP Member

    It makes me wonder what the city's explanation would be. Have you called them?

    I'm really sorry about your fish.

    My son has ran into issues once when his city had used too much aluminum sulfate for turbidity. At least I believe that is what the explanation was...
  12. bitseriously Well Known Member Member

    What a rotten situation.
    I’m kinda leaning away from chlorine. If it had been present at levels to kill fish and algae that quickly, I’d think you would have smelled it. I’ve heard the smell comes from the cl reacting with organic matter, but there would have been plenty of that. I’d also expect that a dose of cl that high would comprise some regulatory threshold. I don’t suppose you tasted the water?
    Anyways, thanks for sharing the cautionary tale. And again, sorry.
  13. Carolyn Underwood Valued Member Member

    uncle fishy...I am so sorry this happened to your beloved fish. What a heartbreaking experience this must have been for you! My tap water often has the strong odor of chlorine in it, so I have been using a PUR water filter on my spigot for years now. Although every drop of water in all 6 of the tanks I have are filtered, I still use Safe Start every time I do a partial water change. Also got something to get rid of the chloramines. Just recently bought some Flourish for my plants and reading the ingredients label, it has copper in it. And 1, 5-pentanedial (glutaraldehyde), as well as copper 0.0001%. After reading that, I will not put it in any of my tanks (not being a chemist, I am not sure how much of anything would kill the fish and snails)
    I got off on a tangent, but just wanted to tell you I am so sorry this happened to you, because I know how those fish can look right at you and tug at your heartstrings.
  14. Magicpenny75 Well Known Member Member

    SO sorry for your loss! So much work and love destroyed in minutes. :(
    Could you share with us where you live, possibly? It might be helpful to others that live nearby. And definitely let us know if you find out what horrible thing the city added to your water. Such a sudden reaction from all the life in your tank...it had to have been something really nasty. This is so sad. :(
  15. r5n8xaw00 Well Known Member Member

    Yep, city water. When I lived in Houston we got a notice from the water company that they had switched water sources because the old one became contaminated with radiation.
    In this letter we read the even with the new water source people on dialysis, and other conditions listed should not drink tap water. If these people can't drink the water, then what is it doing to the healthier people.. bottom line drink this water at your own risk.
  16. ItsLadyJadey Valued Member Member

    I'm sorry this happened to you and your fish. Thanks for the heads up though for real I live in NE Houston (I'm seeing a recurring theme here) about maybe 50 feet higher than a 500 year flood level off Lake Houston. The only spot in the area that wasn't flooded at that 500 year level it reached during Harvey.

    Ever since then the apartment complex I live in has shut off the water several times for many hours to do some sort of maintenance and when we do get tap back it's normally a nasty yellow-brown tinged color. It hasn't happened yet since I started this hobby about 3 months ago but I would probably have waited until maybe 8 hours after water was on and ran clear to do any water changes. At this point it'll probably be at least 2 days after maintenance that I'll feel safer now thanks to your story. My nitrates don't rise fast enough for me to feel an urgent need for water changes, and even though the maintenance is unannounced most of the time, I'm positive my fish will survive a few days longer in waiting.
  17. uncle fishy Valued Member Member

    I've messed this up till I can't replay to anybody. See below...
  18. uncle fishy Valued Member Member

    Sorry fellow fishkeepers, I work odd hours and many of them. That Multi quote attempt ate my lunch.

    Thanks very much for all the useful information and the much appreciated notes of sympathy. This has been BY FAR my worst experience ever in all my years as an aquarist. I'm not sure if I've ever even heard of one this bad.

    I have now emptied the water, removed the crushed coral substrate and discarded it along with any porous rocks and decorations. Then I completely cleaned EVERYTHING - tank, hood, filters, heaters, ceramic decorations, etc, etc - with water and much elbow grease. Then I replaced everything, refilled the tank with new and hopefully safe city water. Once I got everything running I added a cup of unscented (regular) Clorox bleach. After 12 hours or so I will empty it yet again and dry everything completely. Then I will let it sit for several days before starting over with new substrate and fish.

    Maybe this is God's way of telling me I needed to do something different with this 60 gallon tank. It had a rather large bio-load and was bay far the most maintenance intensive one in the house. Stay tuned.
  19. Margaux New Member Member

    That's really terrible. I'm always wary here because the city has been redoing pipes and we've had a few incidents of brown/rusty water. I tend to overdose dechlorinator because I can taste chlorine in my drinking water, but I'm going to be doubly careful now.