DEP: Herbicide spill more damaging than initial reports suggest

A hazardous materials team was on the scene of a chemical spill on U.S. Route 322 just west of the intersection with state Route 144 in Potters Mills.
A hazardous materials team was on the scene of a chemical spill on U.S. Route 322 just west of the intersection with state Route 144 in Potters Mills. CDT photo

A chemical spill Monday along U.S. Route 322 in Potters Mills reached a nearby waterway and caused a fish kill that stretched almost 6 miles, state environmental officials said Tuesday.

Initial reports suggested the spill was small and contained, but further investigation revealed that about 100 gallons of concentrated herbicide had made its way down a storm sewer drain and into nearby Potter Run, the state Department of Environmental Protection said.

Dan Spadoni, a DEP community relations coordinator, said dead and distressed fish were found Monday night as far away as Sinking Creek, into which Potter Run flows. The total area affected stretched 5.8 miles.

Neither stream is a source of public drinking water.

The chemicals in the herbicide are toxic to aquatic life until significantly diluted, Spadoni said.

“With the current high flow in the streams, it is most likely diluted below toxic levels at this time,” he said Tuesday afternoon in an email. “However, our field staff on site have not completed their assessment to confirm this.”

Environmental crews said further assessment was done Tuesday.

Robert Carline, a retired leader of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit at Penn State and a longtime fishery researcher, said the toxic effects of such a spill can last much longer than the initial fish kill.

The chemicals also can kill microscopic plants living in the streams, altering the food base and oxygen levels there.

“You get aftereffects,” he said.

Officials with the state Fish and Boat Commission didn’t respond to messages Tuesday seeking comment regarding the extent of the reported fish kill.

The compound that spilled is a soil-applied herbicide used in corn fields and is made up of four chemicals: acetochlor, atrazine, dichlormid and propylene glycol, Spadoni said.

A 200-gallon tote filled with the herbicide fell from a Growmark truck and landed along the roadway, causing its lid to come off and spilling about half of its contents, Spandoni said.

Centre Hall Fire Chief Harry Hockenberry said Monday the truck was traveling on state Route 144 and was attempting to turn eastbound onto Route 322 when the container fell.

That intersection has long been considered dangerous by the state and is in line for upgrades thanks in part to millions of dollars from the new state transportation bill signed into law in Potters Mills by Gov. Tom Corbett in November.

Crews there Monday clearing the spill indicated it was smaller than initially feared. At the time, Hockenberry reported the spill had been contained before “much” of the chemical had spilled.