Officials with Gold Creek Foods and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources say that the cleanup of Flat Creek in Dawsonville is ongoing after a chemical spill two weeks ago killed the majority of the wildlife in the stream.
On March 20, a Gold Creek Foods employee accidentally punctured a 55-gallon drum of ferric chloride, which ran into the stream behind the chicken processing plant. The spill created highly acidic water, killing fish and other species in the creek, which is a tributary to Shoal Creek and the Etowah River.
The water is now testing at a normal pH, according to Kevin Chambers, communications director with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
“The water samples are now back to acceptable levels,” Chambers said Tuesday.
A final count of the number of fish and other wildlife killed due to the spill has not been released, Chambers said.
In an email on March 28, Bo Weber, counsel for Gold Creek Foods, stated that the cleanup process was going very well.
The process has been aided by the state EPD and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as well as by Gold Creek Food’s independent environmental remediation company and the plant’s internal safety teams.
“The EPA is satisfied with the ongoing remediation efforts, and we have been working side-by-side with the Georgia EPD on all efforts to address the situation,” Weber wrote. “Testing in the creek area is showing that all pH levels are at or near the normal range, but we will stay at work and continue testing until we are sure these results don’t change over time.”
Gold Creek Foods is up against a negative public perception after they failed to report the spill to officials, and for formerly allowing runoff from their plant to enter the playground at Robinson Elementary School, which sits adjacent.
Despite outrage from parents and even an online petition to have the plant shut down, Gold Creek Foods insists the playground was never affected by the most recent chemical spill.
“Results are in from testing of the playground at the school, which is not only clear of any material, it was never affected,” Weber said. “Safety measures the company put in place in 2013 ensured that area was not impacted.”
The EPD is still investigating how the spill was able to bypass the plant’s containment procedures and enter the stream, but none of those questions have been answered yet.
“The big investigation into the facility and procedures will take a while,” Chambers said.
The city of Dawsonville has been fined numerous times by the EPD for issues with its wastewater treatment plant, some of which it reportedly passed on to Gold Creek Foods.
The Dawson County News has filed an open records request with the city to determine how many of the EPD fines it has received since 2004 were passed to the plant, and how many the plant paid.
Weber also issued an apology on behalf of the company, which is owned by Mark Sosebee, son of former city councilman Mike Sosebee.“We would like to repeat how deeply we regret that this happened, and we are committed to fully addressing the issue,” Weber said. “We are reviewing all of our procedures with the third party environmental remediation company and will update them as needed. Gold Creek and its employees are proud members of this community and we cherish the environment here. We will learn from this incident and take all actions we know to take to prevent it from happening again.”