Mass DEP: No danger to public after sulphuric acid leak

COLRAIN — The state Department of Environmental Protection said there is no danger to the public accessing the North River or the downstream Deerfield or Connecticut rivers following a sulphuric acid leak that resulted in a fish kill over the weekend.

An unknown amount of acid leaked from a seam in a holding tank at the Barnhardt Manufacturing Company in Colrain on Sunday morning, according to Catherine V. Skiba, regional spokesperson for MassDEP.

Residents living along the river reported seeing thousands of dead fish Sunday. Skiba said Tuesday afternoon that no additional fish kill is expected from this release.

Barnhardt notified MassDEP at about 8 a.m. that its employees had discovered the leak about two hours prior and worked immediately to stop it. Barnhardt, at 247 Main Road, manufactures bleached cotton fiber products.

According to a Wednesday press release from Barnhardt, the tank began leaking sometime between 3 and 6 a.m.

“This spill was reported to the MassDEP as soon as it was discovered and we have been in constant contact with DEP during the remediation process,” the release states.

The department was told the tank was in containment and there was no release to the environment, but it was later realized that the leak sprayed outside the tank’s containment structure, making contact with a drainage swale and resulting in runoff into the North River. This discovery led to containment of affected soils and a cleanup was conducted.

Skiba said the Colrain Police and Fire departments were notified of the situation.

MassDEP was also informed by environmental police at about 2:30 p.m. of the reported downstream fish kill, according to Skiba, who reported that MassDEP employees met on site with state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife staffers, who assessed the impact from the release. MassDEP is in contact with the Shelburne Falls and Griswoldville water districts, which have wells along the North River. Skiba said water quality testing indicates a normal pH level, but the water districts are checking the pH as a precaution.

“MassDEP is continuing to investigate the cause of the release, including the amount of acid released, and to ensure the cleanup is complete,” Skiba said in a statement.

Barnhardt issued its apologies for the incident on Wednesday.

“It is always our intentions to operate our facilities according to the state and federal environmental laws and regulations,” the release states. “We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused for anyone in the community.”

Andy J. Danylchuk, associate professor of fish conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explained that sulphuric acid is a colorless, odorless mineral acid that easily dissolves in water and reduces its pH, making the water more acidic. He said it is often used as an industrial cleaning agent and is the main ingredient in drain cleaner.

Danylchuk said direct contact with concentrated sulphuric acid can damage the soft tissue of fish. He said it could be especially problematic for a fish’s gills, which are responsible for gas exchange and ion regulation.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or
413-772-0261, ext. 262.

Author: Going Green

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