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Chemical Spill Wipes Out Portions of the Driftwood Branch Watershed

On Friday June 30th a tragedy unprecedented for this area struck the Driftwood Branch Watershed. A Norfolk Southern train derailed spilling more than 40,000 gallons of concentrated sodium hydroxide into the headwaters of the Sinnemahoning Portage Creek. The effects were devastating to aquatic life.

The Portage Creek was basically wiped out, both the Class A Wild Trout waters and the stocked trout waters on the lower portion of the stream. The Driftwood Branch along its entire length experienced a very heavy fish kill. The fish kill even extended downstream to the Sinnemahoning Creek at the village of Sinnemahoning.

The sodium hydroxide that spilled into the stream had a pH of 14, ten million times stronger than neutral conditions. It was so basic that it dissolved organic matter, turning the stream brown with pollution.

It will take years for the affected streams to fully recover. The Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish Commission have both surveyed the affected streams following the pollution. Their findings will be compared with reference data taken from these streams when they were healthy. Since both agencies are seeking penalties from Norfolk Southern, the results of these surveys have not been made available to the public.

The only bright point is that although fish populations were devastated on the Driftwood Branch, many of the aquatic bugs seemed to have survived the chemical pollution. This will certainly help fish repopulate this section of stream. However, the prognosis isnít quite as bright on the Portage Creek. All aquatic life was devastated for 7.5 miles downstream from the spill site and below that, aquatic organisms were hard hit.

The Bucktail Watershed Association will keep members up to date with the proceedings of this case and the recovery of the Driftwood Branch watershed. If opportunities arise for restoration activities or for seeking damages to mitigate the environmental destruction, the Bucktail Watershed Association stands ready to become involved.

News articles regarding the train wreck and resulting chemical spill and environmental damage have been compiled by Ann Mulhollan on the websites www.GardeauTrainWreck.com and

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2006 Driftwood Branch Fish Kill
Fish kill on the Driftwood Branch in the village of Cameron



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