Jefferson kaolin spill moving downstream

A weekend kaolin spill in Jefferson County had traveled almost 20 miles downstream as of Wednesday morning.

 

“It’s beginning to settle out a little on top, but it’s still leaving a trail of white,” said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus, whose group has been following the event.

A ruptured pipeline, which has since been taken out of service, was the cause of the spill, which Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division said involved 679 tons - or 187,000 gallons - of kaolin slurry from a nearby mine.

The affected area is roughly the same stretch of Reedy Creek and Brier Creek where an October fish kill occurred, but no dead fish have been reported from the recent incident, Bonitatibus said.

Savannah Riverkeeper science adviser Frank Carl said there could be lingering environmental impacts.

“Kaolin is a very fine clay, and the fine particles can clog the gills of fish and aquatic invertebrates,” he said. “But the fish kill in October, that originated about the same place, may have cleared the stream of aquatic life so that the current spill may not do much damage in Reedy Creek, but could have an effect in Brier Creek.”

Carl also expressed concerns about the possible presence of surfactants - soapy chemical additives that help keep kaolin suspended in water - in the spilled material.

“Wildlife and domestic animals will not be harmed by the kaolin, but if there is a surfactant in the slurry, that surfactant should not be ingested,” he said.The New year’s Eve pipeline failure originated near the Georgia Highway 17 bridge over Reedy Creek. The company involved, KaMin LLC, is developing a monitoring plan to evaluate impacts of the spill.

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