Chemical spillage in Codornices Creek leaves dozens of trout dead

A rocky creek flowers through a leafy and green landscape.
Jessica Schwabach/Staff

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Dozens of dead trout appeared in the Codornices Creek after a garbage truck fire April 3, and members of the community are now looking to officials to investigate the incident, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

Berkeley Fire Department responded to the fire, using water and foam to extinguish the truck. Photos of the scene show that some of the foam made it into the Codornices Creek, leading some to believe that the death of the fish in the creek was caused by the foam. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating the incident, according to Berkeleyside.

According to Ben Eichenberg, a staff attorney at Baykeeper — a nonprofit organization that monitors and investigates pollution in the San Francisco Bay — “Class A” foam was used to extinguish the firetruck. Eichenberg said this type of foam is known to kill fish.

Eichenberg lives half a block away from the site of the incident and said he counted 15 dead trout within his block. Eichenberg said he is certain that the toxic foam caused the deaths of the trout, noting that there was still foam 24 hours after the spillage in nearby storm drains.

While Eichenberg was careful not to place blame on anyone or criticize the Fire Department’s decision to use the foam, he said there should have been trucks vacuuming the foam after the fire was extinguished to prevent spillage into the creek.

“I was really dismayed. A lot of work and a lot of love has gone into that creek,” Eichenberg said. “There was a living, thriving ecosystem in the middle of an urban area.”

Friends of Five Creeks, an organization that mobilizes volunteers to restore and maintain East Bay creeks, wrote a letter to the city of Berkeley and Albany outlining what actions should be taken. It emphasized that responses to this incident should include restocking the creek with more trout, determining whether and how more fish could have survived and maintaining the creek “in a way that will attract public involvement,” according to the letter.

Alameda Creek Alliance Executive Director Jeff Miller said the effects of the spill on the trout were “frustrating” and “disturbing.” Miller, too, is certain that the foam was the source of the dead trout and said this incident calls for better protocol, preparation and understanding of the impacts on wildlife.

“It points out how forgotten our urban creeks are,” Miller said. “We’ve put a lot of our creeks out of sight, out of mind. Often the health of our waterways (is) not thought of. Hopefully, it’ll be something that they think about more.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.