Dead fish and large schools of minnows gasping for air could be seen Wednesday in Filbin Creek in North Charleston, where an overturned 18-wheeler spilled 8,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of kerosene, officials said.
"That's a substantial spill for a small tidal creek," said Priscilla Wendt, environmental quality manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.
"It's fairly serious," said Terry Yarborough, emergency response coordinator for Region 7 of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Gasoline fumes hung heavy in the air at R.M. Hendricks Park on Virginia Avenue at Interstate 526 where the city has a floating dock and boat landing on the creek. Workers on the dock tossed absorbent cloths onto fuel 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 float
ing booms placed on the creek. An estimated 50 percent to 80 percent of the spilled fuel was contained, and most of it would be cleaned up by today, Yarborough said. Still to be determined was how much fuel flushed out of the creek, which drains into the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor.
"At this point, we don't know how much of the Cooper River will be impacted. Hopefully, we'll prevent any of the product from flowing into the harbor," he said. Foam sprayed on the water to control dangerous gasoline and kerosene fumes may be as toxic to marine life as the spilled fuel, he said. Officials said they had determined 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.
The truck owner's representatives hired Moran Environmental Recovery to conduct cleanup operations, the Coast Guard said in a statement. Scientific analysis showed little potential for the spill to enter the Cooper River, and cleanup operations are expected to continue through Friday, the Coast Guard said.
Virginia Avenue was closed near the spill Wednesday afternoon. Workers were allowed to drive to businesses from the Remount Road side of Virginia Avenue but were blocked at the Mark Clark Expressway from the other side. Other than the blocked ramps near the crash, traffic on the Mark Clark was flowing as usual.
Problems started Tuesday when an 18-wheeler went out of control on Virginia Avenue at the creek and turned on its side about 9:45 p.m. Officials said the driver had left the nearby Hess terminal when the accident happened. When the truck crashed, the tank broke open and dumped much of the fuel into the creek marsh.
Firefighters immediately began placing a layer of foam on the spill to suppress the vapors. As many as 30 firefighters were using breathing apparatus because the vapor level was so high.