EPA plays down harm from North Fork spill
SUMMIT COUNTY – A spill into the North Fork of the Snake River Friday from a truck accident on Highway 6 near Arapahoe Basin apparently won’t cause any serious long-term harm to the pristine stream.Initial reports on the spill suggested that the liquid was a caustic car wash concentrate, but EPA investigators who responded to the scene said they now believe the product was a dye for concrete. The main ingredient is iron oxide, along with a very low concentration of antifreeze. The iron oxide is not particularly harmful to aquatic life at low levels, although if it settles on the stream bed in any significant amount it can kill the bugs and larvae living in the gravel. “It’s basically rust,” said the EPA’s Mike Zimmerman. “That’s what caused the discoloration of the stream.” Zimmerman said about 300 to 400 gallons of the liquid made it into the water when the driver of an eastbound tractor trailer went around a turn a bit too fast at 4 a.m. Friday morning and turned the front end of the rig on its side. The driver didn’t suffer any serious injuries, but the Colorado State Patrol was considering filing charges in the wreck.Almost all the liquid ran down off the road and into the stream, turning the water bright orange for several miles downstream, nearly all the way to Keystone. But as of Monday morning, the Forest Service hadn’t received any reports of dead fish from the North Fork, Zimmerman said. The waters of the North Fork were running clear by Saturday, about 24 hours after the spill.Zimmerman said only a small amount of the dye was recovered in the sand berms used to try and contain the spill near the highway. A cleanup crew was expected to finish cleaning the tainted sand Monday, he added.The iron oxide would help explain why the North Fork turned nearly the same color orange as the Blue River 11 days earlier, after a surge of runoff from a mine near Breckenridge briefly tainted that stream with significant amounts of iron oxide, as well more dangerous metals including zinc, lead and arsenic.The initial concerns about impacts to fish came from the trucking company manifest, which showed that there was car wash soap aboard. But Zimmerman said quick testing for acidity in the water showed that the pH was normal just a short distance downstream from the spill.”We finally got a corrected manifest from the trucking company and found out it was a product called Mortar Color-Dry,” Zimmerman said. The product may leave a thin layer of sediment where the Snake River enters Dillon Reservoir, he added.EPA investigators are also planning a site visit this week to view the source of the spill into the Blue River.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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