Whitesburg KY

Soapy substance flows, fish die

The Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) is working to indentify the source from which a soap-like substance entered a branch of Elkhorn Creek in Jenkins last week.

“There was no evidence of where it entered the stream,” said Allison Fleck, DOW spokesperson. “There was a substance that caused a lot of bubbling.”

Foamy bubbles light gray in color covered the two-foot-wide stream at Smokey Row on May 10.

“I’ve never seen foam like that,” said Mark Kidd, a volunteer with Headwaters Inc., a nonprofit organization in Letcher County. “The foam would just sit there in big clumps. It went up a foot or two on the bank.”

Jenkins Mayor G.C. Kincer said the bubbles, which he said “were higher than man,” began in a creek near the Wells Concrete Plant at Dunham.

“It poisoned the water all the way down to the fire station,” said Kincer. “Fish were floating all the way down the creek.”

Fleck said about 100 minnows died after the spill. Kincer said frogs and snakes also died.

“It killed any animal that drank the water,” said Kincer. “It was really toxic. It had a lot of potential to be one of the most toxic things that have happened around here.”

Fleck said an inspector spent several hours onsite, and that Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Officials took samples.

Fleck said the substance was never a threat to the water intake because the stream is below Jenkins Lake, where the city gets its water. Booms were placed in the stream, but a storm caused the booms to drift away, Fleck said.

Kidd said a huge gust of wind blew some of the foam into the air.

“There was marble-size to golf-ball-size foam floating in the air like cyclones of foam blowing in the wind,” said Kidd, who is concerned the foam could have been mixed with other chemicals.

“The foam may be the part you see,” said Kidd. “ You may not see other chemicals. People are breathing in these industrial soaps and maybe other chemicals. We have several concerns about human health.”

Kidd said the substance could be a “surfactant” used when drilling gas wells to keep the drill from getting too hot and rock from getting too slippery.

“We need to be able to identify the source of pollution,” said Kidd. “We’re not trying to take on anybody. We’re just trying to figure out what community members are supposed to do to help.”

Kidd said Smokey Row residents were very upset after the spill. Kincer said residents have since calmed down, but were “scared to death.”

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