Chemical leaks from foundry into Mill Creek stream

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The milky white substance that leaked Friday into Bears Den Run stream in Mill Creek MetroParks was sodium hydroxide, according to city fire officials.

Youngstown Fire Department Battalion Chief Silverio Caggiano said Friday about 250 gallons of the slightly corrosive industrial chemical leaked into storm drains from a crack in the sanitary sewer lines of a nearby industrial complex along Hendricks Road in Austintown. Operators were unaware of the leak, he said.

Ohio EPA spokesman Anthony Chenault said Friday afternoon the complex’s sanitary line was improperly connected to the storm sewer off the property. The operators will be issued a violation notice, he said.

MetroParks Executive Director Aaron Young said the discoloration was reported to park officials early Friday. Youngstown wastewater officials and EPA investigators took samples of the cloudy water as city and Austintown fire officials tracked the contamination back to its source.

Mahoning County HazMat crews plugged the source drain – which cleared up much of the white cloudiness residents reported Friday – but responders couldn’t locate the source in time to keep the chemical from reaching Mill Creek, Caggiano said.

Caggiano said Lake Glacier, which is fed by Mill Creek, did not show signs of contamination Friday.

Sodium hydroxide is used as a cutting and cleaning agent and also acts as a slightly corrosive lubricant to keep cuttings clean, he said. It easily mixed with the stream water Friday, making filtration the only effective solution – but that was impossible, he said.

Neither Caggiano nor Mahoning County Soil and Water Conservation District officials noted any fish deaths as a result. Water testing performed Friday returned a pH level of 8, which is slightly more alkaline than water. The stream’s pH and dissolved oxygen levels fall within the EPA’s acceptable limits, Chenault said.

Kathleen Vrable-Bryan, Mahoning County Soil and Water Conservation District administrator, took the Friday incident as an opportunity to remind Valley residents to dump “only rain down the drain.” As Mill Creek’s lakes receive Youngstown’s combined sewer overflow, residents must be more careful about dumping in storm drains or yards.

“You can’t just dump out stuff and expect Mother Nature to take care of it,” she said. “Storm drains usually go right directly to a living, breathing body of water. ... It can do a lot of damage.

“You have to be cautious how you handle waste. It has to be properly disposed of.”

Caggiano said it isn’t the first time Bears Den Run neighbors have reported the stream turning milky white.

The Ohio EPA will continue to investigate and review remediation needs, Caggiano said, adding the running stream will likely dilute any residual contamination and “normalize” pH levels over time.

“Dilution is the solution,” he said. “Nature kind of does have a way of cleaning itself up.”

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