Investigators Thursday morning were still assessing whether spilled fuel from an overturned tanker truck, possibly as much as 4,000 gallons, got into the Cooper River from Filbin Creek in North Charleston.
"The tide is running pretty hard today with a lot of gasoline. I really believe as hard as the tide is running some of it is getting into the river," said Terry Yarborough, emergency response coordinator for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control Region 7.
Dead fish and large schools of minnows gasping for air have been seen in Filbin Creek, where an overturned 18-wheeler spilled 8,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of kerosene on Tuesday night, officials said. Yarborough estimated that 50 percent to 80 percent of the fuel was contained.
"That's a substantial spill for a small tidal creek," said Priscilla Wendt, environmental quality manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.
The accident happened on Virginia Avenue as the truck was turning onto I-526 after leaving the Hess terminal. The driver is charged with driving too fast for conditions, said Spencer Pryor, North Charleston police public safety communications director.
Gasoline fumes hung heavy in the air at R.M. Hendricks Park on Virginia Avenue at I-526 where the city has a floating dock and boat landing on the creek. Workers on the dock on Wednesday tossed absorbent cloths onto fuel that was visible as a sheen on the creek surface. A Coast Guard helicopter assessing the extent of the spill circled overhead. A vacuum truck on Virginia Avenue sucked up a mix of fuel and water contained by yellow floating booms placed on the creek. Foam sprayed on the water to control dangerous gasoline and kerosene fumes may be as toxic to marine life as the spilled fuel, Yarborough said.
Officials said they had determined on Wednesday that the eye-stinging vapors at the park were not of a sufficient concentration to pose a risk of explosion. Fuel vapor readings were also taken on the I-526 bridge that passes over the creek, Yarborough said. Wendt said the spill would cause "immediate toxicity" for some species but would not be a long-term toxic problem. "This will have a short-term negative effect on estuarine species in Filbin Creek," she said.
Read more in Friday's editions of The Post and Courier.