Cooper River impact not likely

Jesus Ortiz Simitrio, with Moran Environmental Recovery, uses absorbent cloths Thursday to capture gasoline and kerosene from the surface of Filbin Creek. The fuel was spilled Tuesday when a tanker truck overturned on Virginia Avenue.

Nine-thousand gallons of fuel that spilled into a North Charleston tidal creek harmed fish, marsh and possibly small trees, but the gasoline and kerosene is believed to have been kept out of the Cooper River, officials said Thursday.

"We don't think there is any impact on the Cooper River," said Terry Yarborough, Region 7 emergency response coordinator for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

An 18-wheeler overturned Tuesday night on Virginia Avenue at Interstate 526. The tanker was carrying 8,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of kerosene from a nearby terminal. The fuel washed into Filbin Creek, where the city has a park, floating dock and boat ramp.

North Charleston firefighters on Thursday used water to flush fuel from the marsh into the creek. Floating booms on the creek kept the fuel from washing out with the tide. Vacuum trucks and absorbent material were used to remove the fuel. Dead fish and schools of minnows gasping for air were seen Wednesday, but no dead or distressed fish were observed Thursday.

The upper reaches of the creek above Virginia Avenue were re-engineered to enhance stormwater runoff from upland areas and reduce flooding of adjacent properties. Channels built to improve drainage and gates installed to reduce tidal inflow above the avenue have had an adverse effect on water quality and wetlands throughout the creek, said Priscilla Wendt, environmental quality manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.

According to a 2005 DHEC report, aquatic life in the creek is only "partially supported" because of problems with oxygen levels in the water.

"There have been a few fish kills in Filbin Creek in years past due to low dissolved oxygen during the summer months," Wendt said.

Water quality as reflected in dissolved oxygen levels has been improving,however, and efforts are under way to restore the upper reaches of the creek so that stormwater pollutants are filtered through vegetated wetland buffers, Wendt said.

All four lanes of Virginia Avenue at the site of the spill closed on Tuesday night; two of the lanes reopened Thursday morning.

The truck driver was charged with driving too fast for conditions, said Spencer Pryor, North Charleston police public information officer.

The truck's representative contracted with an environmental cleanup firm to help remove the fuel from the creek. Wendt has said the spill would cause "immediate toxicity" for some species but would not be a long-term toxic problem.

The spill happened at about 10 p.m. Tuesday when the truck was leaving the Hess terminal on Virginia Avenue and turning onto I-526.