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Tinker Creek Fish Kill and Restoration Plan

April 2020 update

A settlement agreement was reached with Nutrient Ag Solutions and the draft Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment (RPEA) was released to the public on March 18, 2020.

The draft RPEA includes evaluation of four alternatives: 1) natural recovery, 2) propagation & restocking of fish, 3) recreational fishing improvement, and 4) in-stream habitat improvement.

NEXT STEPS: Comments are due by April 20, 2020 to US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The RPEA will be finalized, if appropriate and restoration projects will be complete. More information is available from FWS. 

July 2018 update

DEQ water quality monitoring staff conducted an informal visual examination of an area that was affected by the release last year. Staff observed many fish (adult and young of the year), many crayfish, snails, and mayflies.  In addition to this observation, a full benthic and aquatic assessment will be conducted in October of this year.
DEQ continues to work with Crop Production Services, Inc. to resolve the alleged violations identified in the October 4, 2017, Notice of Violation through the agency’s enforcement process and in coordination with our partner agencies.

March 2018 update

DEQ surveyed sections of Tinker Creek and Carvins Creek following concerns about ongoing foam in Tinker Creek. White bubbles were observed below riffle sections and other slow-water habitat in most streams in the region, including both creeks surveyed. The foam was determined to be the natural result of the decomposition of organic matter such as algae and leaves in the stream. Natural foam can have an earthy or fishy order, if the foam was from detergents or surfactants it would likely have a sweet, soapy, or perfume odor, white in color, and will be slimy to the touch.

January 30, 2018 update

All on-site removal actions have been completed, including the removal of contaminated soils impacted by the release. The on-site stormwater ditch and stormwater pond have been relined and returned to service.

DEQ issued a Notice of Violation on October 4, 2017, for an unpermitted discharge of pollutants to surface water.  DEQ is resolving the alleged violation through its enforcement procedures and in coordination with partner agencies.

Future monitoring plans are being developed.  DEQ is coordinating with US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on monitoring plans to track the stream’s long term recovery. 

October 27, 2017 update

On July 29, 2017, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and DEQ received notification from the Virginia Emergency Operations Center that Roanoke County citizens had reported a fish kill in Tinker Creek near Ardmore Drive. VDEM and DEQ immediately mobilized to the site of the reported fish kill and began working with Roanoke County and Botetourt County to survey Tinker Creek for a possible cause of the fish kill. The emergency responders observed foam on the surface of Tinker Creek along with deceased fish and other aquatic life. 

Working upstream in Tinker Creek, Botetourt County public safety personnel were able to identify a chemical release at Crop Production Services, located in Cloverdale, as the source of the fish kill. The chemical was identified as Termix 5301 – a type of surfactant (detergent-like substance) that is added to herbicide and pesticide products before application. The chemical is not a herbicide or a pesticide.  

Approximately 165 gallons of the chemical were released through a small puncture in the side of an intermediate bulk container on the facility’s property. The chemical ran across a paved area and into a stormwater ditch and retention pond.  The stormwater retention pond discharges to an off-site stormwater ditch that discharges into an unnamed tributary of Tinker Creek.

Based on the agricultural and residential land use surrounding Tinker Creek, Botetourt and Roanoke counties sent out a reverse 911 message to property owners in close proximity to Tinker Creek. The message advised that people and animals should avoid contact with the water in Tinker Creek. A second reverse 911 message with a similar advisory was issued later in the day.

At mid-morning on July 29, Crop Production Services hired an emergency response contractor to initiate removal actions. The removal actions began immediately and included the recovery of contaminated stormwater in on-site and off-site stormwater ditches and the on-site retention pond, as well as the excavation of affected soils from the on-site stormwater ditch and retention pond. Soil samples and samples from a drinking water well were collected the same day.

DEQ deployed two fish kill investigation teams to collect water chemistry data and to identify the types of fish and numbers of fish killed as a result of the chemical release. DEQ concluded its instream field work by approximately 6 p.m. on July 29.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) also participated in the fish kill investigation. DEQ, USFWS and DGIF are working together to produce a report that will summarize the extent of the impacts to water quality and aquatic life in Tinker Creek.

DEQ issued a news release on July 31, detailing information about the incident that was known at the time. This was followed by news releases with additional updates on August 4 and August 11.

Following the chemical release, DEQ worked with Crop Production Services and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to develop, review and implement sampling and analysis plans.  Water samples were collected from Tinker Creek on August 7 between the site of the spill and downstream to the Route 24 Bridge (near the confluence with the Roanoke River). The results showed that Termix 5301 was not detected in any of the samples. Based on these results, the Tinker Creek health advisory was lifted.

In coordination with VDH, DEQ has requested sampling and analysis of several drinking water wells. Several rounds of samples have been collected, and the results showed that Termix 5301 was not detected in any of the samples. Additional samples will be collected periodically to monitor for any changes.

Soil samples also have been collected from the on-site stormwater ditch and retention pond and the off-site stormwater ditch. Based on the sample results, Crop Production Services will remove additional soils from the on-site stormwater ditch. No further removal actions will be required in the on-site stormwater pond, and no actions were required in the off-site stormwater ditch. Crop Production Services and its contractor will reconstruct the on-site stormwater system. On October 4, 2017, DEQ issued a Notice of Violation to Crop Production Services.

DEQ is working with FWS and DGIF on developing plans to monitor the recovery of Tinker Creek following this incident.

Additional Information

What caused the fish kill?
An agricultural-use chemical leaked from a container on the property of Crop Production Services, located at 218 Simmons Drive in Cloverdale on July 29, 2017. Rain washed an estimated 165 gallons of the chemical into an unnamed tributary of Tinker Creek and Tinker Creek.

What was the chemical?

The chemical, Termix 5301, is a type of surfactant (detergent-like substance) that is added to herbicide and pesticide products before application. The chemical is not a herbicide or a pesticide. 

What was the geographic extent of the fish kill?

On July 29, 2017, DEQ staff began its fish kill investigation by going to the most downstream location where dead fish were observed, which was between Clearwater Avenue and Hollins Road. Staff then started surveying stream segments, working from that location and moving upstream to Crop Production Services. On July 30, DGIF and USFWS staff surveyed the stream at Mill Dam and nearby upstream locations. Based on observations made by DEQ, DGIF and USFWS, the fish kill extended more than five miles. As part of the stream recovery efforts, state and federal agencies will assess how many stream miles should be included in future monitoring, which may include fish counts, benthic surveys, and water column and sediment sampling and analysis.

What caused the container to leak?
The container had a small puncture, about one-third of the way from the bottom of the tank. The cause of the damage to the container remains under investigation.

Who is responsible for cleanup?
The company, Crop Production Services, was responsible for the spill. It has cooperated fully and continues to cooperate with DEQ on all aspects of this incident.

How was the chemical cleaned up?

In the area where the spill occurred, remaining product was removed and soils contaminated by the product were excavated and taken off-site for treatment. The product that entered Tinker Creek was unrecoverable because it completely mixed with the water. The chemical was diluted and dispersed as it traveled downstream. 

Is the creek safe for the residents to use now?

Immediately following the spill and out of an abundance of caution, the public was advised to avoid use of the creek from just west of Route 11/Lee Highway, across from Southern States Cooperative in Cloverdale, downstream to the mouth of Tinker Creek at the Roanoke River.  Water samples collected on August 7 were tested by the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services and showed no evidence of the spilled chemical. Based on the water sample results the Virginia Department of Health lifted the Tinker Creek recreation ban on August 11.

What should I do if I’m concerned about potential exposure?
The chemical only posed a health risk at high concentrations.

My pet drank/swam in Tinker Creek when there were dead fish present. What should I do?
Pet owners were advised to contact their veterinarians if they have reason to believe a pet was exposed and shows signs of illness. Pets and livestock should never be allowed to drink directly from a stream, as they run a similar risk of contracting illness from untreated surface water, just as humans do.

I have a well located close to Tinker Creek. Is my well at risk due to this spill?
Risk to wells along Tinker Creek was extremely low. This is because water in Tinker Creek comes from surface runoff (rain) and from groundwater that discharges from the banks of the creek (seeps). This is how creeks and rivers continue to flow between rain events. Wells are, in general, at greater risk from oil and chemical spills occurring on land close to wells. Water samples from wells close to the spill have been analyzed for the chemical of concern. None was detected.

Will I know if my well is affected?

Unless a well is located close to Tinker Creek and is already affected by surface water, it should not be affected by this spill. Wells that may be affected would be addressed on a case-by-case basis. 

What other agencies are involved and what are their roles?
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management and local first responders from Botetourt County and Roanoke County were involved during the early days of the incident; their involvement has since ceased. The Virginia Department of Health has been involved throughout the incident and continues to be involved. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) continue to coordinate with DEQ on the assessment of long-term impacts to Tinker Creek. The Virginia Department of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) has performed most of the analytical work on the collected samples.

Is DEQ performing enhanced stream monitoring in Tinker Creek due to the spill?

DEQ will continue to work with DGIF and USFWS to evaluate long-term environmental monitoring needs and to monitor the recovery of Tinker Creek. 

What are the long-term impacts? 

No long-term impacts are expected. The creek is expected to fully recover. It is too early at this time to specify how long the recovery will take.

How persistent is this chemical in the soil/sediment?

Based on available research, the contaminants of concern degrade relatively quickly in the environment. Long-term environmental monitoring needs (including soil and sediment) are being evaluated by the partner agencies.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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