The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has reported that a Saturday morning chemical spill in Simmons Industrial Park in Cloverdale has caused a fish kill in nearby Tinker Creek.
The Botetourt Fire and EMS Department reported being called to the spill Saturday about 8 a.m. and started advising people downstream to avoid the creek because of “visible contamination on Tinker Creek south of I-81.”
According to information provided by DEQ official Bill Hayden on Monday, the chemical is Termix 5301, a type of surfactant (detergent-like substance) that is added to herbicide and pesticide products before application. The chemical is not a herbicide or a pesticide.
DEQ reported that the agricultural-use chemical leaked from a container at Crop Production Services at 218 Simmons Drive, and rain washed an estimated 165 gallons of the chemical into a small tributary and then into Tinker Creek.
The container had a small puncture, about one-third of the way from the bottom of the tank, DEQ reported. The cause of the damage to the container is under investigation.
The fish kill began along the tributary to Tinker Creek in Cloverdale, and continued downstream into Roanoke County.
DEQ biologists have not determined how many fish were killed, but the initial estimates are that the number may be in the tens of thousands. “This includes all sizes and types of fish, including sunfish, rock bass and smallmouth bass, large suckers, and many smaller species such as minnows and darters.”
DEQ said the dead fish will begin to decompose and also will float downstream, which likely will lead to several days of “unpleasantness” along Tinker Creek.
“However, the stream will recover from the kill and life will return,” the DEQ statement said.
There also were dead crayfish found.
DEQ biologists determined that the downstream extent of the kill was between Clearwater Avenue and Hollins Road in Cloverdale, Hayden reported.
Residents are advised to continue to avoid use of the creek until further notice.
In its statement Monday, DEQ reported the creek is being monitored for the presence or absence of chemicals. Information will be communicated to residents once the creek is safe for recreation.
“At this time, the chemical release has been contained, and there are no reports of public exposure. Only those individuals who came into direct contact with the chemical or were in the immediate area of the creek would have a potentially elevated risk of exposure. State and local agencies continue to monitor the situation,” the DEQ statement said.
DEQ said the chemical may pose a health risk only at high concentrations. It may be harmful if swallowed or touches the skin; it may cause skin burns and eye damage.
“If you are concerned about potential exposure, contact your physician, the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222) or the Roanoke City Health Department (540-283-5050),” DEQ recommended.
DEQ said the risk to wells along Tinker Creek is extremely low. “This is because water in Tinker Creek originates from surface runoff (rain) and from groundwater that discharges from the banks of the creek (seeps). This is how creeks and rivers continue to flow between rain events.
“Wells are, in general, at greater risk from oil and chemical spills occurring on the land in proximity to the well,” DEQ said in its statement.
DEQ said unless a well is located close to Tinker Creek and is already impacted by surface water, it should not be affected by this release. Wells that may be affected would be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
In the area where the spill occurred, remaining product is being removed and soils contaminated by the product are being excavated and disposed of. The product that entered Tinker Creek is unrecoverable because it mixes with the water.
During a check of the stream on Sunday, July 30, the foaminess and cloudy appearance caused by the product had almost completely disappeared. Some residual foam may be noticeable in areas where the stream goes over riffles, rapids and dams, as the material mixes with the air and water.
Where the material was present in the water, the stream exhibited a cloudy appearance and heavy white foam. Bathing with soap and clean water should remove the material from the skin for those who came into contact with the water.
“Pet owners should contact their veterinarians if they have reason to believe the pet was exposed and shows signs of illness,” the DEQ statement advised. “Pets and livestock should never be allowed to drink directly from a stream, as they run a similar risk of contracting illness from untreated surface water as humans do.”
The company accepted responsibility for the release and hired a hazardous materials cleanup contractor to do the cleanup. “All of the recoverable material and contaminated water and soil that were identified was removed by the contractor before the end of the day on Saturday. Other areas have been sampled, and additional cleanup will be done if the material is found elsewhere,” the DEQ said.
DEQ will continue to focus on water quality monitoring and overseeing the cleanup. DEQ may determine that enforcement action is appropriate as the investigation proceeds.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for assessment of damages to natural resources and the presence of federally listed threatened and endangered species.
DEQ checked the stream at more than a dozen locations, from near the mouth at the Roanoke River, to above the confluence with the impacted tributary at US11 in Cloverdale. “At almost all locations, the appearance of the stream had returned to normal for this time of year. Once the material is diluted and flushed downstream, no long-term impacts to the stream are anticipated,” the DEQ statement said.
“It ultimately may take several years to return to normal, but the stream will recover and aquatic life will repopulate the affected areas,” DEQ said.