Kevin Chambers, a spokesman for Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, said the investigation will include scrutiny of several industrial mining operations that discharge material into the creek – or its tributaries – under permits administered by the state.
“Yes, the kaolin facilities are part of our investigation,” he said. “But it’s too early to speculate on enforcement action.”
The area most affected by the incident is from Keysville south to Storey Mill Road, where numerous dead fish were counted.
“The fish count is not complete, but estimated in the thousands,” Chambers said.
According to EPD records, four kaolin operations have state permits to discharge into the creek, along with municipal wastewater treatment facilities in Wrens and Thomson.
Kaolin is a whitish, chalky clay used in the manufacture of paint, paper and other products. Some of the highest quality kaolin can be found along the prehistoric seashore known as the “Fall Line” that separates the coastal plain from the state’s Piedmont region.
Tonya Bonitatibus, the director of Savannah Riverkeeper Inc., said after a visit to the site that dead fish were seen along at least 10 miles of the creek. “We saw 60 to 70 dead fish at the Farmers Bridge Road crossing,” she said.
Fish kills typically are caused when something in the water depletes dissolved oxygen levels; or when something toxic or dangerous is added to the water.
Although Brier Creek empties into the Savannah River, authorities are not aware of any effect on the larger waterway.
“We don’t know what killed the fish in Brier Creek, so can’t speculate on the impact to the Savannah,” Chambers said. “However, distance and volume of water would work in its favor.”