They also said the spill couldn’t have been prevented because it resulted from water sprayed on a fire at J&J Chemical’s plant in an effort to extinguish it. The water washed away the toilet-bowl cleaner the company makes, and the mixture flowed down hill into Trail Creek which feeds the North Oconee and Oconee rivers.
“You had to put water on a fire to put it out, and that water had to go some place,” said Allen Barnes, director of the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources. “If we had had everybody from EPD there, we still would have had to wait until they put out that fire.”
Barnes’ comments came in response to board member Warren Budd who asked for an update on the spill, even though it wasn’t on the board’s agenda.
“A lot of people in Athens are asking what happened,” Budd said.
Barnes conceded that his division should have issued an order for cleanup sooner and that he has instructed his staff to refine their procedures.
“We did respond, and we are responding,” he said.
Two weeks after the spill, the EPD issued an order, which J&J agreed to. It requires the company to monitor water along 4 miles of the creek twice a week in the creek until no more contaminants are detected. It also makes the company filter the runoff from the property.
Water hasn’t been deadly to fish once it is diluted by the volume of water in the rivers, an official said Wednesday.
“We haven’t seen any progressive kills,” said Melissa Cummings, spokeswoman for the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. “It doesn’t seem to affect any of the fish in the Oconee.”