Penns Valley

Chemical spill cleanup irks conservation group

A 200-gallon tote filled with herbicide fell from a Growmark FS truck on U.S. Route 322 in May 2014, contaminating the nearby Potter Run waterway. Penns Valley Conservation Association is unsatisfied with the cleanup response from Growmark.
A 200-gallon tote filled with herbicide fell from a Growmark FS truck on U.S. Route 322 in May 2014, contaminating the nearby Potter Run waterway. Penns Valley Conservation Association is unsatisfied with the cleanup response from Growmark. CDT file photo

In May 2014, a chemical spill along U.S. Route 322 near Potters Mills damaged the nearby Potter Run waterway, killing fish along a stretch of almost six miles.

A 200-gallon tote filled with herbicide fell from a Growmark FS truck and landed along the roadway, causing its lid to come off and spilling about half of its contents, Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Dan Spadoni said at the time.

The tote contained a soil-applied herbicide used in corn fields and is made up of four chemicals: acetochlor, atrazine, dichlormid and propylene glycol.

According to a June 2014 letter in response an inquiry from the Penns Valley Conservation Association, Growmark CEO Steve Buckalew, about 65-70 gallons of the product spilled. The driver reported the spill to DEP, the Centre Hall Fire Company and Pennsylvania Hazmat.

Once the spill was contained, he said, a contractor cleaned the herbicide from the dirt and paved surfaces and reseeded the area with grass.

“At this time, PADEP has informed GFS that no further cleanup or remediation efforts are necessary,” he said, adding, “GFS will continue to assess what, if anything, we can do to improve our safety measures in an attempt to eliminate accidents of this type in the future.”

But Penns Valley Conservation Association Executive Director Andrea Ferich said Monday that she isn’t satisfied with Buckalew’s response, especially the statement that no further efforts were needed.

Specifically, Ferich is concerned about the amount of atrazine that leaked into the waterway, a chemical she said has been shown to cause disease and birth defects.

Atrazine was banned in the European Union in 2003 because of unpreventable water contamination, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Because of its ability to affect water, Ferich said she would like to see Growmark step up to pay for ongoing monitoring of the water in the areas where the chemical is used.

“We’re surrounded by it,” she said, adding that the herbicide is used on farms in the area. “It’s covering our food and water, we’re breathing it, we’re eating the fish that swim in it.”

The conservation association works to “protect and conserve Penns Valley’s waters, farmlands, forests” and rural quality of life, according to its website.

“We’re asking Growmark to have some accountability,” Ferich said.

According to DEP documents, Growmark entered into a consent assessment of civil penalty in September as a result of the spill.

About 100 gallons of herbicide was lost from the spill, the consent assessment said, with most of the herbicide flowing over the road surface to a nearby catch basin that discharges into Potter Run.

Stream surveys conducted by the DEP the day of and the day after the spill showed dead and stressed fish as far as 5.7 miles downstream, the assessment said. Because the discharge into the waterway was deemed illegal, a penalty of $6,400 was paid by Growmark to the state’s clean water fund.

As far as the DEP is concerned, Spadoni said Monday, the case is closed.

A followup survey is expected to be conducted by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, commission spokesman Eric Levis said. The commission can file criminal charges or a civil suit against Growmark, he said, but didn’t indicate whether there were plans to do so.

A Growmark representative could not be reached for comment.

Ferich said the conservation association has not been to the spill site yet this year. She hopes to have a stream monitoring team out this spring to see if there are any long-term effects.

“I know it’s possible for farmers to grow crops without chemicals,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be a toxic concoction.”

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