Shenandoah Riverkeeper received a citizen’s report of a fish kill and a strong chemical odor in Blacks Run* in the city of Harrisonburg, Virginia, late Friday night August 1, 2014. Alan Lehman, our field project manager, responded early the next morning to investigate the report. He patrolled the stream as it winds through the city, into tunnels, under streets and buildings, to document the fish kill. He counted 27 dead fish, ranging in size from five to 12 inches long, and one dead rat in the creek. One block upstream of the dead fish, Lehman found a cleaning company pressure-washing the exterior of the local jail building. The foamy runoff from the project was flowing directly off the building and into a storm drain nearby, which sent the toxic slurry into Blacks Run.
Two cleaning product containers were found sitting on the street next to the company trucks, each with labels, one of which was a 12.5% Sodium Hypochlorite solution with Federal labels warning of its corrosive properties. Along with other precautions, the label clearly stated:
“This pesticide is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. Do not discharge effluent containing this product into lakes, streams, ponds, estuaries or other waters unless in accordance with the requirements of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit…Do not discharge effluent containing this product to sewer systems without previously notifying the local sewage treatment plant authority.” The label also stated in all capitals: “IT IS A VIOLATION OF FEDERAL LAW TO USE THIS PRODUCT IN A MANNER INCONSISTENT WITH ITS LABELING”.
The hose operator and owner of Squeeky Clean, of Dayton, Va., spoke with Lehman about the fish kill and their cleaning project. The operator stated he was unaware there was a stream under the street at the downtown site, as it was completely hidden from view. Lehman informed him he could be in violation of Federal law and he agreed to stop using the product and only spray water on the site in the future. The operator also stated that he regularly uses that chemical to clean buildings in the region. Later that same day, Lehman noticed that fish were beginning to reenter the area where all fish had been wiped out. Looks like we were just in time! In our assessment the fish kill was not a major incident due to the quick response of Shenandoah Riverkeeper. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is reviewing our photographs from the scene and is considering possible penalties for Squeeky Clean.
*Blacks Run tributary of Cooks Creek, which flows into North River before joining the South River to formthe South Fork of the Shenandoah River.