7 Years Later: the story of the Trail Creek Spill

This is what Athens’ Trail Creek looked like after a chemical leak. Blue water and lots of dead fish. The cause – toilet-cleaning chemicals from J&J Chemicals.  That was in 2010.


Now — Seven years later, the water is clean, but how?

According to Peter Norris of the Upper Oconee Water Network, “If toxins got into the rivers via creeks, the county would rely upon natural processes to remove the toxins.”
To accomplish this, according to  the Trail Creek Google Witness site  J&J Chemicals agreed to

  • Secure the plant site to ensure that rainwater does not contact burned debris and contaminated materials
  • – Capture, containerize, and properly identify and treat all runoff from the plant site
  • Begin demolition of the building, identify the waste contents, and properly dispose of all solid waste
  • Pump contaminated water from Trail Creek and filter it through activated carbon filters at Olympic Drive and Athena Drive; and continue treatment until the river was pronounced clean.

In layman’s terms, in the words of Ben Emanuel, administrative assistant at American Rivers, “They did quite a lot of remediation and removal on site, on the property where the chemical warehouse was, and on an immediately adjacent property…They removed a lot of contaminated soil as well as a lot of contaminated water.”

The toxic chemicals were not all removed from the creek, particularly not from the stream bed sediments downstream a few miles down. The J&J company used air spurges in which air was bubbled through the water to cause the volatility of the chemicals to move into the air, but chemicals still lingered in the streambed sediments. They are being allowed to move downstream over time.
“I’m not sure anybody was ever really clear on how much contamination was in those streambed sediments as compared to what was there on site,” Emanuel said.
Finally, in 2013, Trail Creek was pronounced clean.

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