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Norwich-based scientists believe hair bleach chemical could save the lives of millions of fish

PUBLISHED: 19:06 23 August 2017 | UPDATED: 19:06 23 August 2017

Dr Jennie Pratscher, left, from the UEA School of Environemntal Sciences, taking part in the field trial of hydrogen peroxide. Picture: John Innes Centre

Dr Jennie Pratscher, left, from the UEA School of Environemntal Sciences, taking part in the field trial of hydrogen peroxide. Picture: John Innes Centre

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Millions of fish-deaths caused by toxic algal blooms could be prevented by a household chemical best known for bleaching hair, breakthrough research has revealed.

On site at the field trial of hydrogen peroxide. Picture: John Innes CentreOn site at the field trial of hydrogen peroxide. Picture: John Innes Centre

The discovery follows an investigation led by a team of scientists at Norwich’s John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia, aimed at finding a cost-effective solution to a persistent problem that threatens the £100m angling economy of the Broads.

Trials carried out in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads National Park have shown that at controlled concentrations hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is deadly to Prymnesium parvum, the golden algae.

The algal bloom has been responsible for killing thousands of fish on the Broads, but similar incidents could be a thing of the past following successful trials at Whispering Reeds Boatyard on Hickling Broad.

Ben Wagstaff, a PhD student at the John Innes Centre who took part in the trials, said: “Our lab and literature research came up with hydrogen peroxide as a potential chemical treatment.

Dead fish on the Broads killed by Prymnesium parvum in 2015. Picture: John Innes CentreDead fish on the Broads killed by Prymnesium parvum in 2015. Picture: John Innes Centre

“We developed a system in the lab where you could use low enough concentrations that would kill algae but wouldn’t affect any fish or macro invertebrates.

MORE: Newly discovered virus could be responsible for thousands of fish deaths on Norfolk Broads

“Then we took our lab understanding and sprayed a very small section of a broad which had been affected by blooms and it worked brilliantly.”

Blooms happen regularly in slightly salty or brackish waters such as the coastal parts Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, although not all of them are deadly.

Under certain environmental conditions still being researched, Prymnesium can produce toxins, very quickly turning water toxic for fish within a matter of days, sometimes even hours.

The research was hailed as a “life-saver” by John Currie, general secretary of the Pike Angling Club of Great Britain. He said: “It’s hard to put into words how important this is for us.

“At one time before the first Prymnesium wipe out in 1969 this area had the British pike record, so was one of the most important pike fisheries in Europe.

“With this success we hope that in the next six years we will see growth rates coming back to pre-1969 levels, that’s completely feasible.”

Around 230,000 fish had to be rescued and relocated from a corner of Hickling Broad following a Prymnesium algal bloom in 2015.

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