Hundreds of dead fish floated to the surface of Strawberry Creek Tuesday morning, the apparent result of chemicals dumped in the stream, according to a group of residents who reported the incident.
Asa Dodsworth, who lives on the bank of Strawberry Creek on Acton Street, called the Fire Department after he began feeling dizzy investigating the suddenly cloudy water flowing through the creek in his back yard.
“I noticed that the water in the stream was cloudy, and there were dead fish floating in the stream,” Dodsworth said.
He and some of his friends headed upstream to locate the source of the spill. They found that the creek was running clear and odor-free off the UC Berkeley campus into the entrance of the culvert at Oxford Street.
0pening a manhole cover at Civic Center Park, they noticed a strong bleach-like smell, they said, though the water was running clear.
Dodsworth and friends collected 87 dead fish—identified by a state game warden as mostly members of the carp family. They also found a koi that was hanging onto life.
Geoffrey Fielder, hazardous materials specialist for the city, said that the spill probably originated from a commercial source.
“It flushed completely through in about an hour, and I would guess the contamination had occurred somewhere between Oxford and Acton streets,” he said. “If I had to guess, I would say the contamination probably resulted from cleaning at a commercial establishment.”
Captain Tim Dillon of Alameda County Fire Department Station 19, based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said the water was clear by the time he arrived at Dodsworth’s house.
His company is trained in handling hazardous materials spills, and the infrared testing equipment they brought identified ammonium chloride, Lysol cleaning solution and an optical lens cleaner in the water samples Dodsworth provided.
“I have no clear idea what killed the fish,” Dillon said Wednesday.
Dimethyl amine, used in production of fungicides, herbicides and rocket fuels, was also found in the samples—again at low levels.
Lt. Robert Perez, a hazardous materials specialist with the Berkeley Fire Department, had arrived earlier, when the stream was still milky.
“He told me that initially he couldn’t see the bottom of the stream,” Dillon said.
Todd Ajari, a warden with the California Department of Fish and Game, took the dead fish Dodsworth and his friends had collected, along with water samples.
Like Fiedler, Ajari said he suspected someone had dumped cleaning solution into a storm drain that emptied into the creek. “It’s hard to say whether it was intentional or unintentional,” he added. “While it was probably a small amount” that was dumped, Ajari said that “in a small creek the effect was great.”
Fielder said that beginning with Tuesday’s incidents, his office would start reporting spills to the police.
“We had another incident in Strawberry Creek two months ago, where we suspect latex paint was dumped into the creek, but that didn’t kill the fish,” he said.
Detecting the source of creek contamination is difficult at best, Fielder said. “The only way you can get at it is a really quick response and you would have to stop traffic so you can pull the manhole covers” in city roadways.
Officials urged anyone who suspects creek contamination to call 911 or the Fire Department as soon as possible. The Department of Fish and Game maintains a 24-hour toll-free reporting number for spills and poacher reports at 888-334-2258.