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Runoff from local plant turns creek blue

8:33 PM, Aug 29, 2012   |    comments
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DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. -- A creek in Douglasville turned a beautiful, but disturbing shade of blue on Tuesday and the county now believes it knows why.

Tony Smith first reported the problem Tuesday afternoon after going into his mother's backyard to check the level of Cracker Creek along Huey Road. The waterway barely trickles most days, but after a heavy rainfall it can clog with debris and swell. Tuesday afternoon, Douglassville got hit hard with rain, stemming from tropical storm Isaac.

"It was just a real, real vibrant turquoise. It was a gorgeous color," said Smith comparing the water to what you might expect to find on an amusement theme park water ride.

Smith walked up the creek, following the color until he came to a retention pond belonging to the Asphalt Refining and Technology company, or ARTC. Smith says water from the pond was spilling out into the creek, bringing the blue color with it.

"So whatever they're releasing is coming this way," said Smith.

ARTC declined to talk with 11Alive, but Pete Frost, the Executive Director of Douglas county's water and sewer authority, says the company told his investigators the blue color came from a food grade dye they had put on the ground to trace storm water runoff.

"(They wanted) to make sure it went into their storm water pond. It went into their pond, obviously overflowed from their pond out into the stream," said Frost.

The county took dozens of samples from the creek Wednesday morning and by late afternoon had enough test results back to confirm the company's story. Frost says the dye is non-toxic and shouldn't impact fish or drinking water.

Still, Pete Frost says he's concerned he had to hear about the spill from homeowners.

"I'm not sure even Young Refinery (ARTC) knew how colored the water was when it was leaving their site," added Frost.

EPA records show ARTC was cited $900 for a clean water act violation in 2007 for an oil spill. Smith worries what else may have flowed past his mother's house.

"The kids will never go back in this area ever again. It's unfortunate because kids love creeks. It's just a draw," said Smith.

The county says even if the dye is non-toxic, it's still illegal to let it run into the stream. No word yet whether the company will face any fines.

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