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Chemical spill at Gold Creek Foods contaminates Dawsonville stream
Reports of a low pH balance causing marine life to die in Shoal Creek and Flat Creek in Dawsonville are currently being investigated by an emergency response team from the Department of Natural Resources. Photo by Jessica Brown, Dawson County News.

Fish, snails, salamanders and other wildlife are dead in Dawsonville’s Flat Creek after officials say a tank of chemicals burst at a chicken processing plant.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is investigating and Kevin Chambers, director of communications for the Environmental Protection Division, confirmed March 22 that the department is investigating a confirmed fish kill that originated at Gold Creek Foods chicken processing plant in downtown Dawsonville.

Dawsonville City Manager Bob Bolz said city employees noticed a strange color to the creek, which runs in front of the city’s public works facilities, early Thursday morning. Upon closer inspection they noticed dead marine life and contacted the city’s contract environmental services to investigate.

Bolz said he has been told the source of the contamination was a 55-gallon tank of ferric chloride that burst at the processing plant, which is located on Ga. Highway 9 N.

Ferric chloride is a chemical used in sewage treatment and water purification.

“Once our guys got here, the Environmental Management Services we contract with, they saw the pH was so low they knew something had happened,” Bolz said.

Bolz said that Environmental Management Services had tested the creek water earlier in the week and that it registered at a pH of six and a half. When they tested it today, it was at a pH of one.

Bolz said Gold Creek Foods has told officials the spill occurred between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, but that they never notified the city or the EPD.

Bolz said there is no threat to city drinking water at this time.

The EPD’s emergency response team and the DNR Wildlife Resources Division fisheries biologists have been on site. Officials are conducting a fish count to see what damage has been done to animal life in the creek, which runs into Shoal Creek.

It’s not just fish, it’s snails and salamanders and worms,” Bolz said.

Shoal Creek eventually meets the Etowah River, which is host to several endangered species of fish.

Gold Creek Foods issued a statement about the spill via email around 6:45 p.m. Thursday.  

“Gold Creek Foods had a small chemical spill at its Dawsonville facility this week," the statement reads. "Gold Creek employees promptly responded to the spill from a 55-gallon drum.  We are investigating the circumstances of the spill, and can provide no further information at this time, until we complete our investigation.”

The creek runs directly behind Robinson Elementary School, and Gold Creek Foods has been a source of contamination on the school’s playground in the past.

Bolz said he has been in contact with Dawson County Schools Superintendent Damon Gibbs because they will need to begin cleaning up the stream before rain sets in this weekend.

Gibbs said in an email that he has been told school children will not be in danger from the chemical unless they come into direct contact with it.

Friday was planned as a normal school day for Robinson Elementary, but recess was not be held outside, Gibbs said Thursday.

Bolz said he has notified Dawson County Manager David Headley and Fire Chief Lanier Swafford of the incident, and that Swafford will be contacting the Georgia Emergency Management Association.