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November 20th, 1998 Update on the Bear Creek Spill

The City of Boulder Water Quality & Environmental Services Department has released the following response to questions posed by Boulder City Council Member Spence Havlick regarding the November 8th, 1998 hazardous materials spill into Bear Creek in Boulder, Co.


  1. Question: Who is now pursuing the recovery action, replacement of killed aquatic life, and assessing penalties?

Response: Regarding recovery efforts, University Environmental Health and Safety staff have indicated that CU is working with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to identify appropriate follow-up actions, ranging from the restocking of fish to other environmental projects. City staff will track this effort with the Division of Wildlife to provide coordination with any additional requirements which may be imposed by the city. Regarding the assessment of penalties, city Water Quality staff are working with the City Attorney's Office to evaluate enforcement options under both CU's Industrial Pretreatment Permit and general provisions of City Code. If penalties are pursued by the city they may include financial assessments, upgrades in the University's waste handling processes or a combination of the two. The Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigation Branch is actively investigating the incident as well and will make a determination on any action after their investigation is completed. In addition, the State of Colorado's Water Quality Control Division is evaluating the potential for action under their jurisdictional authorities.

2) Question: Should one be led to believe THAT AFTER THE HYDROCHLORIC ACID was dumped into the storm drain and then into Bear Creek, the next action CU STAFF or the contractor took was to pour CAUSTIC SODA into the drain and/or Creek in order to neutralize the previously dumped acid?

Response: CU staff have stated that the mixing of acid cleaning solution and caustic neutralizer took place prior to discharge to the creek, and the release was caustic in nature due to an over-addition of the neutralizing chemical. Under this scenario, only high-pH water would have reached the creek. Measurements taken by City Fire and County HazMat personnel have shown high pH directly below the point of discharge, with lower readings downstream. City staff will evaluate the sequence of events which occurred and the potential for acid solutions to have reached the creek as a part of their follow-up investigation of the incident.

3) Comment: I hope the citizens are given a good understanding of this and future actions at the neighborhood meeting.

Response: A wide range of issues related to the CU release were discussed at the November 16 meeting of the Park East Neighborhood Association. CU discussed steps being taken to correct problems which led to the release and received a lot of feedback from citizens. City staff described its response and notification actions, and heard recommendations for change and/or improvement in both these areas. The Fire Department received a round of applause for its quick response to the scene and speed in tracking down the discharge source.

More information about the spill is available from a November 11th Boulder Daily Camera article

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