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Chlorine Kills City Fish

Pool discharges chlorine into Accotink Creek, killing several fish.

The pool in a community that recently identified itself as being the home to a group of environmentalists is linked to a chlorine discharge resulting in an Accotink Creek fish kill.

The City of Fairfax Fire Marshall shut down the Mosby Woods Condominium pool, Friday, June 22, because of improper handling of the cholorination system, said Gary Orndoff, the city’s assistant fire marshal. Several residents of that community recently came out in force to oppose a ball field project in their neighborhood, citing concerns for the environmental effects the field could cause to the community and to the Accotink Creek Watershed. The pool, however, is not managed by the residents, but by U.S. Aquatics, a national pool management company.

Two 50-gallon containers at the Mosby Woods pool failed, said Orndoff, but secondary containment systems captured the chlorine. The city then required that U.S. Aquatics pump the chlorine out of the containment systems, and it was during that process that the discharge into the creek occurred.

Jeremy Fish, of U.S. Aquatics’ Sterling, Va. office, said the leak that resulted in the containment systems filling up was immediately corrected. He did not have an answer, however, for how the chlorine ended up in the stream. He went on to say that the company was having the backwash drain "looked at," after denying any knowledge of the incident even happening.

Had the containment systems failed, the incident would have been classified as a spill, thus requiring U.S. Aquatics to hire cleanup contractors. Since the chlorine was still under containment though, the company could handle the recovery itself, said Orndoff.

"Some of the chlorine in the vat was more or less dumped down a floor drain," said Mark Miller, of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s pollution response office in Woodbridge.

That’s when two local residents walking near the North Fork of Accotink Creek, in Mosby Woods, noticed something wrong. The women, Donna Weed and Sue Frodigh, saw dead fish and crayfish and smelled chlorine. Some of the crayfish had crawled onto rocks to escape the toxic water, according to Duane Murphy, coordinator with the Friends of Accotink Creek organization. Frodigh and Weed moved the fish to the South Fork, about 100 feet away, Murphy said, via e-mail.

The department of environmental quality will be sending an "unpermitted discharge letter" to U.S. Aquatics, said Miller, which is essentially a warning not to let something like this happen again. The department is still investigating, and could also decide to impose a fine on the company.

THE GOOD NEWS is that chlorine doesn’t generally hang around very long, said Miller, so it should dissipate out of the water "at a relatively fast pace."

The pool is using a crystal granulated chlorine in the mean time, until the fire marshal’s office comes out to do another inspection.

"They have removed all liquid chlorine from the facility," said Orndoff. "[U.S. Aquatics] has not called us to tell us they’re ready for inspection."

Murphy is thankful the Friends of Accotink Creek could provide a helping hand. Frodigh and Weed, had found the contact information for the city and the department of environmental quality through the Friend’s Web site, www.accotink.org.

"Thanks to these caring Friends of Accotink Creek in the City of Fairfax, they helped save lives of many crayfish, fish and other critters downstream," wrote Murphy to the Friends of Accotink Creek volunteers.

"Residents can put pressure on community pools if they are aware that those pools can cause harm to the environment," said city resident Joanna Cornell, a watershed specialist with the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, in an e-mail to Murphy. "Residents with private pools don’t always know that the storm drains are connected to streams directly … there is a need for education."

Miller said it’s not unusual for the department of environmental quality to get calls regarding pool discharges during the spring and summer months.

"We’ve had at least one other fish kill this year, related to the discharge of a pool," Miller said.

The City of Fairfax does not allow chemically treated water to be released into the stream and provides education about water discharge through Cityscene, the city’s

monthly newsletter, said Adrien Fremont, special projects engineer with the city.

The Mosby Woods incident is the first time a pool discharge has resulted in a fish kill in the city, in about the last 10 years, said Orndoff.