Pollution returns to East Fork Globe Creek

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
A turquoise-colored substance coats the streambed and the surface of water downstream from Vickery Spring where Rick Skillington points from his neighbor's backyard.

Water and the creek bed downstream from Vickery Spring just south of Cedar Ridge Landfill have a bluish-green color and officials said Monday that it's being investigated by the state.

"I've seen that color in a creek before," said Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett who issued warnings last week. "It was in East Fork Globe Creek seven to 10 years ago" when the source was attributed to the landfill.

Laboratory tests had not been announced by noon Tuesday, but Rick Skillington, who was taking steps as a good neighbor, said he'd notified livestock owners downstream. The unnamed tributary flowing behind Skillington's Mooresville Highway home at Poteete Road goes into East Fork Globe Creek, which generally parallels Mooresville Highway further west of Lewisburg.

"About the last of May, I got to noticing some discoloration in the water," said Skillington, who pointed out that upstream from Vickery Spring, the water was clear and the streambed was natural.

Downstream the water has an unnatural sheen on the surface and the streambed has a near psychedelic coloration.

"On Tuesday, June 16, members of our Water Pollution Control (WPC) staff visited this unnamed tributary," said Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. "Members of both our WPC and Solid Waste Management staff were at the site again on the morning of Wednesday, June 17, to collect samples for bacteria and to check conductivity" of electricity.

Pure water doesn't carry electricity very well.

"As the conductivity increases in a stream, the water quality of the stream typically decreases," Lockhart explained. "This is because more and more chemical compounds are dissolved in the water producing greater levels of pollution. When water from a stream is tested for conductivity and the conductivity level is high, then more detailed analyses are performed to see what pollutants are causing the elevated conductivity. Once the types of pollutants are identified then it is easier to determine the source of the water pollution."

Initial sampling shows E.coli bacteria levels were the same upstream and downstream from the spring, she said.

"That "most likely rules out a septic or sewer issue as a source," Lockhart said.

Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Department Superintendent Kenneth Carr said the nearby city sewers were inspected with a video camera on a tethered sled. LWWD Lab Supervisor Kent Sweeton said dye was poured in another part of the sewerage system in response to a customer's complaint about the discolored tributary on June 15.

Carr and Sweeton said the tests show the utility isn't responsible for the discoloration.

Robert Cheney, market area business development manager for Waste Management Inc.'s office in Franklin, said the company had a monitoring point at Vickery Spring "because it's hydrologically connected to our property..."

Cedar Ridge Landfill Manager Tom Aaron looked at the stream with a neighbor of the landfill, saw "discoloration in the creek and noticed an underlying septic, sewage odor."

Skillington said he'd spoken with the landfill manager.

Aaron contacted Waste Management's environmental protection group on water quality issues and Jessica Preston of that group went to the stream and based on the odor, she notified the city there may be a sewage leak because there's a city sewer near there, Cheney said.

Utilities are required to notify TDEC if they receive a report of pollution.

TDEC's water testing began, as did sampling by Waste Management, Inc., Cheney said.

Field sampling for E.coli can reveal results at the site. Other tests can take three days before results might be known, he said. Some will take longer.

"Something is going on, but we want to wait for the science before we speculate," Cheney said Friday evening.

Monday, Terri Douglas, spokeswoman for the company said, "We have no results back yet. There is a lot of testing that's going on. We are working in conjunction with the state to ensure that the neighboring area is safe and we're doing everything that we can to ensure the public's health and welfare."

"We are anticipating some results this week, but when, I just do not have that date," Douglas said.

Skillington lives on the north side of the unnamed tributary and he said there's a "unique odor" there, and that the creek had no minnows, crawfish or other creek wildlife.

"There are a heck of a lot more questions than answers right now," Skillington said.

His neighbor's son, Ko Inthavong, son of Laotian immigrants who live next door and have land parallel to the stream, says that he used to catch minnows for bait in nets placed in the stream. He buys his bait now because there are so few minnows near his father's home.

Ko's father, Som Inthavong says the creek along his property line "smells," and "the water is not clear."

He used to irrigate his vegetable garden with water from the creek, he said. Som Inthavong does not water his garden with the stream's water any more.

More than 20 people were at the stream on Tuesday last week, he said.

His son estimated the number of frogs he'd see at the stream on a normal viewing has dropped from 10 to only two.

Som Inthavong has several questions about the situation, but he concluded his interview with one that's as simple as it is basic.

"Who can make the water clear again?"