Chemical Spill Connects to VA Fish Kill

Monday, December 1, 2014 @ 05:12 PM gHale

A chemical spill at a plant in Hopewell, VA, may be the cause of the deaths of hundreds of fish, a spokesman for the state’s environmental agency said last week.

“We can’t say conclusively, but there does appear to be a connection,” said Bill Hayden of the Department of Environmental Quality.

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About 5,500 pounds of a chemical called ammonium carbonate, which dissolved in water, spilled at the Honeywell International Inc. plant, Hayden said. Honeywell officials said the spill occurred last Monday night.

While most of the spill ended up contained in a treatment lagoon, about 600 pounds of the chemical flowed into Gravelly Run, a stream that eventually leads to the James River, Hayden said.

Officials found several hundred fish, mainly blue catfish, dead in the stream Tuesday.

Ammonium carbonate is one of the main ingredients used produce caprolactam, the Hopewell plant’s main product, Honeywell said. Caprolactam is a part of nylon.

A DEQ inspector took water samples Tuesday, and it will take more than a week to get results, Hayden said. If the samples show water in the stream was high in ammonia, that would be further evidence the chemical spill killed the fish. Ammonia ends up produced when ammonium carbonate hits water, Hayden said.

Honeywell said Wednesday it is still investigating the cause of the spill.

“We regret the incident and are doing everything we can to determine if plant operations may have contributed to the loss of fish,” the statement said. “The plant invests significantly in equipment upgrades, safety controls, processes and operator training to minimize environmental excursions and to mitigate them if they happen.”

Hayden said the cause of the spill, and whether the incident will result in a state enforcement action, are under investigation.

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