August 23, 2000
Herbicide spill takes heavy toll on
By Shannon Becker.
A toxic herbicide spill caused by a commercial truck
accident early yesterday morning has caused extensive damage to the fish
population in and around Fifteenmile Creek. The chemical called oxyfluorfen is sold under the trade
name of “Goal” and is not believed to be lethal to humans but is
highly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, biologists report.
“From what we can tell, it killed everything in the
creek from the spill site to the Columbia River,” said Jim Newton,
district fish biologist with Oregon Fish and Wildlife. The spill occurred around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday morning
when a truck driven by James C. Shreve, 37, lost control in the westbound
lane of Interstate 84 just east of the Highway 197 junction and crashed
into the center divider at Milepost 88. Neither Shreve, nor his passenger
Tamara M. Chiesa, 40, both of Union City, Pa., were seriously injured.
Shreve, who was hauling the herbicide from Bensalem,
Pa., to Portland and Albany, was cited for careless driving and not
wearing a seatbelt. The accident and resulting fire closed Interstate 84
for most of the day, and one lane of the westbound section remained closed
today until the Oregon Department of Transportation can complete repairs
to the highway. Clean-up efforts in and around Fifteenmile Creek are
expected to continue for several days as environmental specialists attempt
to minimize further damage.
This morning clean-up crews worked to remove the
remaining herbicide containers from the creek. The truck, owned by Prime Incorporated Trucking out of
Springfield, Mo., was carrying several cartons of the herbicide, with each
carton containing two 2.5 gallon containers.
“We can see that at least a portion of the chemical
was dumped into the stream, but we have not been able to determine exactly
how much because of the fire,” said Newton. He estimated about 2,000 gallons out of a little
over 4,000 gallons on the truck was burned in the fire or dropped down the
steep slope to spill into Fifteenmile Creek.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers strung an absorbent
boom across the creek mouth at approximately 9 a.m. on Tuesday, but the
one-foot skirt is primarily used for oil spills and did not contain the
chemical that had already mixed with the water, said Newton.
“There was some chemical material that was able to
get under the boom and out into the Columbia River,” said Newton. “At
this time, there is no way to tell what impact there may be to the
Columbia.” He said Fish and Wildlife personnel did collect
water samples yesterday afternoon and would be back out on the Columbia
River today to look for dead or dying fish. “None were spotted yesterday, but we will continue to
monitor the river,” he said.
The impact of the spill on fish and aquatic life in
Fifteenmile Creek was immediately apparent by the time biologists from the
Department of Fish and Wildlife were able to get down to the creek. An incident command team did not let them down to the
site until 6 p.m. Tuesday evening because of the debris which continued to
burn underneath the bridge and along the slope of the creek. Once at the creek, the Fish and Wildlife team found
several species of fish had perished. Among the dead were a few rainbow or
juvenile steelhead, juvenile and adult Pacific lamprey and non-game fish
including sucker fish, sculpin and crayfish, said Newton.
“The death of the lamprey is a bad sign because they
generally live in the fine sediment at the bottom of the creek,” said
Newton. Three high volume pumps and nine 20,000 gallon tankers
have been brought on the scene and are being used to remove contaminated
water and sediment from Fifteenmile Creek. “With the concentration of material that we believe
went into the creek, it is a good assumption that everything in the spill
site area is dead,” he said.
“The chemical is not that toxic to humans but is
deadly to invertebrates. That probably means we now have a "dead"
creek because it is toxic to microorganisms,” said Brian McClure, an
engineer with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) who
toured the site on Monday. He also stated that there are few, if any, salmon in the creek
area this time of year, but he was uncertain whether any trout would have
been in the area. Newton said it was impossible to determine at this time
how the spill may affect the fall run of Chinook salmon.
Members of Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue responded to
the initial call, and Gresham Haz-Mat (hazardous materials) team arrived
on the scene to help with clean-up and assess the material spilled into
Fifteenmile Creek. Personnel from the Department of Environmental Quality,
the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State Police were also
on the scene to monitor the situation.
A unified command has now formed, consisting of
representatives from the Oregon DEQ, the United States Environmental
Protection Agency, Foss Environmental Company and Prime Incorporated
Trucking, and the group is managing the clean-up efforts as environmental
specialists work to remove the high concentration of chemicals from the
creek. The effort has a command post at The Dalles Dam Visitor Center,
which will remain closed to visitors until the clean-up effort is
complete. As a precautionary measure, The Dalles Waterfront Park
will also remain closed until results of water samples can assure public