Hog farm waste found in creek; precautions urged

Hog farm waste found in creek; precautions urged

Posted: Thursday, August 5, 2010 11:07 pm
By: Sabrina Bates, Special to The Messenger

By SABRINA BATES
Special to The Messenger
A stretch of rural creek outside of Martin has been under scrutiny after local and state officials discovered pools of a foreign substance in the creek’s beds.
The office of the Weakley County Emergency Management Agency was called to the area Little Cypress Creek off Cypress Creek Road outside of Martin July 24.
The discovery of dead fish in the creek prompted the call, according to the county’s EMA director, Jamison Peevyhouse. An initial visual assessment of the red-stained water led Peevyhouse to believe that transmission fluid had been dumped into the creek.  
“I thought maybe it was a large amount of transmission fluid,” he said in a phone interview. “This red substance had inundated the area. Because of the presence of dead fish, I called the TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency).”
After tracing the creek with TWRA Aquatic Habitat Biologist Allen Pyburn and a biologist the following morning, authorities discovered the 21⁄2-mile trail led them across Highway 431 and directly to a hog farm lagoon behind Hester Road.  
“If it is done right, a hog farm lagoon can be a useful tool as fertilizer for agriculture crops,” Pyburn said.  
A farm lagoon is comprised of animal waste, micro-organisms and chemicals. Pyburn said chemicals have to be used in a lagoon to keep the “horrendous” smell at bay.
TWRA then contacted the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Now the hog farm and its owner, William Thompson Jr., are under scrutiny by the state agencies. He has reportedly told authorities the spill was an accident.
However, Meg Lockhart, a TDEC representative, said the “discharge of the farm’s lagoon was not accidental.”
“The owner used a pump to lower the water level in his lagoon by approximately two feet,” Lockhart said.
A concerned citizen noticed a septic tank service with a tanker truck and hose at Little Cypress Creek on Hester Road on July 26 and notified the Weakley County Press.
According to Lockhart, the owner of the septic tank service, Tracy Vicary, was contacted by the farm owner to provide remedial action and help remove the pools of hog waste from the creek.
When asked what other actions are required to alleviate the stinky mess infiltrating the rural creek, Lockhart said the pump was being used to remove as much waste as possible and no other actions are required. While TDEC proceeds with its investigation into the issue, the TWRA is keeping a close watch on the wastewater in the creek.
“The tests of the water revealed that it contained zero dissolved oxygen, which is something fish rely on,” Pyburn said. “It has killed some sunfish along the creek. Nothing aquatic will live in that water.”
His department is waiting for a significant rain event which, in time, will dilute the high concentration of ammonia and chemicals in the water, according to Pyburn.
“The more diluted it is, the better off we are. Little Cypress Creek turns into Cypress Creek and eventually flows into the Obion River. I hope there won’t be any more fish killed,” Pyburn said.  
On Tuesday, he reported the wastewater had made its way to the area of Hall Griffin Road in Obion County behind Everett-Stewart Regional Airport. It is being held at bay by a “log jam.”
According to Lockhart, there are no water intakes along the affected low-flow stream. “TDEC recommends that residents take basic precautions and avoid contact with contaminated streams, including swimming or wading,” he said. “If contact is made, routine washing with soap and not eating or drinking while in contact with contaminated water can significantly help reduce potential exposure to illness.”
A primary concern shared by both departments and the Weakley County EMA office was the potential hazard posed to livestock along the tainted creek.
An initial investigation revealed there are reportedly no livestock along the creek that are dependent on Little Cypress Creek for drinking water. Under Tennessee’s Water Quality Control Act, discharging waste without a permit is a violation of the law. Thompson could face civil violations as well as criminal violations for the lagoon spill.
Vicary reportedly transported the waste he removed from the creek to the City of Martin’s wastewater treatment plant.  
“We treat wastewater here, biologically. The waste then stays here and the clean water is pumped out,” Martin’s wastewater treatment plant superintendent Stacy Chappell said.
“The farmer is saying it was an accident — that he had forgotten the pump was in place. Either way, he is still liable,” Pyburn said.  
The incident remains under investigation by the two state agencies.
Sabrina Bates is news editor at The Weakley County Press in Martin.
Published in The Messenger 8.5.10

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