Photo by Julie McClintock
CHAPEL HILL – Reports of dead fish are emerging in the aftermath of Friday’s gasoline leak at the Family Fare BP off Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The Town of Chapel Hill said that as much as 2,400 gallons of gasoline spilled into Crow Branch Creek, though state and federal agencies haven’t released an official number.
Julie McClintock is the President of the Friend’s of Bolin Creek group and a member of the Booker Creek Watershed Alliance. She worked as an Air Quality Specialist for the Environment Protection Agency for more than a decade and also served on OWASA’s Board of Directors.
McClintock’s neighborhood is at the lower end of the spill’s potential reach. She hasn’t seen any dead fish herself but said neighbors have spotted them in Ellen Lake. WCHL received a report of dead fish on the banks of Crow Branch and Booker Creeks, in addition to a strong gasoline smell and foam in the water.
“I think it is terrible that this happened. I hope whoever is responsible will pay the full cost,” McClintock said.
An EPA representative told WCHL news Tuesday that Bishop Construction Company was doing renovation work at the BP last Thursday and needed a pump to drain the rainwater from a footing hole connected to a pipe leading to a Town storm drain. The accumulation of rainwater caused the footing hole to cave in, and then falling concrete punctured a hole in one of the fiberglass tanks below.
The breached compartment held somewhere approximately 3,200 gallons of gasoline at the time of the incident, though the full amount was not leaked. Because the pump connected to the storm drain, gasoline flowed directly into Crow Branch Creek, a feeder of Booker Creek and Eastwood Lake.
Bishop Construction Company and the gas station are considered the “potentially responsible parties,” according to the EPA, but subsequent action hasn’t been taken at this point.
“There are a bunch of different pollutants that are a part of gasoline, and part of the spill involved ethanol, which is what is in high-test gasoline,” McClintock said. “Ethanol mixes with water rather than floating on top. It is more pervasive and does kill wildlife more effectively than gasoline.”
The EPA believed that the farthest reach of the spill was just Crow Branch Creek.
A rep from the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality said they are awaiting a report from on-site clean-up crews to determine how many gallons of gasoline were leaked. The DENR also sent water samples collected from several creek branches for analysis, but results aren’t expected until later this week or early next week.
“There is more to it than just the animals that you can see,” McClintock said. “Healthy streams actually have little, tiny creatures that you can’t see, and you almost need a microscope to see them. That is the chain of life. If those are damaged and are gone, as you go up higher in the food chain, the frogs and so on, there is nothing for them to eat.”
McClintock said that trace amounts of the gasoline remain in the stream, and there is a visible sheen along the banks.
“It is just like gasoline or oil getting on something. You can see it on the plants or on the surface of the water. It just can be seen.”
She said she hopes the Town of Chapel Hill will work on prevention efforts so something like this never happens again.
“To me, the most precious thing about the area that we live in is the vegetation, the wide diversity of wildlife, and plants that are really unusual. I really want to do everything that I can do protect it,” McClintock said.
McClintock was on-scene Friday and watched as the Chapel Hill Fire Department and other local agencies responded to the leak, efforts which she and the EPA have praised.
Efforts are currently underway are to ensure that any remaining petroleum product is trapped and removed before moving farther downstream, according to a Town rep. The dams established along Crow Branch and Booker Creeks will remain until the Town receives the “all clear” call from the EPA and the DENR.
The Town is no longer managing the site.