A Report on the "Acid Spill" by Leonard Sitongia of the Park East Neighborhood Association.
On Monday, November 16th, 1998, the Park East Neighborhood held a meeting about the acid/caustic discharge into Bear Creek. The meeting was facilitated by City mediation services, Tom and Jean.
Dave Wergin, CU-EHS
Steve Stolz, Boulder Fire Rescue
Carl Jardin, Director, CU Housing
Tom Carson, CU Housing
Mike Morrison, CU-EHS
Diana, Boulder County Health Dept.
Chris Rudkin, City of Boulder Water Quality
Bobbie Barrel, CU Public Relations
Approximately 20 residents attended. The Park East Neighborhood Association Steering Committee was represented by Clare Gleason, Chris Morrison and Leonard Sitongia.
Clare opened with the fundamental questions of what happened, how severe was it, and why wasn't the neighborhood notified. Tom outlined the order of presentations which the officials planned to make.
Reports from Officials
Dave Wergin showed a map of the area of the discharge. A contractor was hired to clean the boilers at Williams Village dormitories. The insurance company suggested an acid cleaning, which had not been done before (35 years). The boiler holds 2000 gallons of water. Acid was added to the boiler, then discharged into a sump. The liquid was then to be neutralized with a base. It appears that too much base was added, leaving the liquid caustic. The contractor began pumping the sump out at 3pm. That was followed by water from the 15,000 gallon cooling tower tank. A citizen noticed an abnormal character of the water and called authorities. The pump-out was stopped before completed. Four samples were taken by the contractor during the pump-out.
Steve Stolz reported that the Boulder Fire Department was dispatched at 4:40pm as a result of the citizen's call. An engine company responded and began assessing the scene for threats, the standard hazardous materials response function. There were no odors or fumes. The water was murky and fish were having difficulty in breathing. The City water quality and County Health were notified. The assessment was that there was no threat to human safety. It was decided that evacuation was not necessary. The FD moved upstream to identify the source, and notified the University. The FD made initial field tests with litmus paper and determined that the discharge at the pipe had a pH of 12.
Carl presented the historical perspective. It is an older building.
Chris spoke of the responsibilities of the City Water Quality department, who is doing follow-up testing to determine the long-term effect of the discharge. The pH of the creek was back to normal the following day. There are regulatory responsibilities regarding codes and permits which require industrial pretreatment of discharges. Requirements differ for discharge into the creek and into the sanitary sewer. His department has jurisdiction in the local enforcement, but the EPA and State are actively interested in this incident. The pH 12 substance was not suitable for creek or sewer. It is important that citizens be involved in protecting surface water. There is a program to educate citizens.
Mike reported on the pH measurements, indicating 12 at the storm drain outlet into the creek, pools of 12 a short distance downstream, and dropping dramatically from there. At the downstream side of the church bridge, the pH was 8.
Diana reported a pH measurement of 11 near Gilpin. All life was wiped out for about 100 feet downstream from the discharge point. She would like to see CU give money to the community rather than pay a fine.
Bobbie explained the mishaps and complications of the official press release which took place two days after the incident. The delay was because of the assessment of no danger and because of coordination with the City.
Conclusions drawn from this meeting:
The discharge was a source of some potential risk, possibly producing burns to the eyes, for example, but in ideal circumstances it would be quickly rinsed out with no long-term health risk. Some officials feel the time of day mitigated the risks somewhat. There was agreement that the incident was serious, but no consensus on how severe.
All of the relevant agencies involved determined that the event was not life-threatening.
All drainage systems at CU have been assessed and there are no other unknown outlets such as this case was.
The County Health Dept. is reviewing procedures regarding neighborhood notification and will consider signage required. CU agreed to the idea of taping the area as a notice. The neighbors called for more formality in notifying citizens, signifying that the situation was resolved, and having timely announcements to radio and print media.
CU engineers are already studying a redesign of the boiler sump and drainage. The pipe will instead be directed into the sewer.
There will be a follow-up regarding further news, conclusions and long-term test results to be communicated to the president or secretary of the Neighborhood Association.
The creek contains a number of pollutants and will worsen as the city grows. It is probably not good for children to play in it.
Timeline (from statements throughout the meeting):
3:00pm Contractor started pump-out
4:40pm Fire Dept. dispatched
5:00pm Water Quality notified
5:10pm BFD identified source and notified CU
9:20pm BFD determines scene is safe