Run-off, overspray causes lake contamination

Nicole Aimone, Assistant News Editor

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The City of Whitewater believes a combination of overspray of tar material and a storm directly after the spraying while repaving parking lots in downtown Whitewater, cause Whitewater Lake’s contamination issues on Aug. 24.

“The water didn’t evaporate out as fast as it was supposed to,” City Manager Cameron Clapper said. “So there was basically what is called diluted asphalt emolution, that flowed into the lake with rain water runoff.”

The city believes the company that was contracted for this project from Jefferson County could have sprayed too much tar material in one area, but believe the incident occurred mostly because of the rain that followed the repaving.

There were some negative effects on the lake because of the polluted rain runoff, including what looked like pieces of tar surfacing in the lake.

“Tar is a coal-based product, so it wasn’t tar it was residual asphalt,” Clapper said. “So it was asphalt that kind of congealed on top of the water, so that was what triggered concerns from residents.”

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Paul House said that the residual asphalt that formed on top of the water may have been a good thing.

“If it’s congealing, that’s a little bit better than if it’s not congealing, because it’s kind of collecting all in one spot and not just spreading out throughout the environment,” House said.

Taking Further Steps

The residents concerned caused the city to take action, by getting the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) involved, however, by the time the clean up crew and city officials arrived the residual asphalt had disintegrated. Despite the disintegration the city and DNR took further actions to purify the lake.

“We worked with a professional clean up crew that handles environmental spills throughout the state,” said Clapper. “We called them in and had them barrier off any spot where rain water or anything else could have flowed into the lake to make sure that regardless of what happened already, nothing else happened.”

The city and DNR also tested the ground where the runoff had flowed, as well as the soil near the lake, which showed no contamination. As of last week, Whitewater also took samples from the lake water.

“The water samples came back with reading that there was no harmful chemicals or pollutants in what remained of runoff from the pavement,” Clapper said.

The city also believes that there was no damage to fish or plant life within or around the lake.

Currently, the city is preparing to remove all clean up equipment from the lakes and surrounding areas, as they believe there is not further pollution happening to the lake.   

House recommends that the city continue to check the water to see if any future repercussions surface, as a precaution because some tar substances have been known to contain carcinogens that could become harmful to plants and animals in the future.

“I would say the important thing is to sort of monitor the environment and see do these compounds start showing up in the lake sediments,” House said.

The city is also taking steps to prevent another contamination incident from happening in the future.

The plan is to evaluate the process of how roads are repaved and make sure they have the appropriate people on site.

“Even if it’s not our own crew doing it, which is exactly what happened this time, it was someone else, make sure that any areas there might be a risk to contamination, that those areas are covered up,” said
Clapper.

Lake Cravath, located in downtown Whitewater, a few days after clean up was finished from a small contamination on Aug. 24. All water samples done after the contamination now come back clean.  photo by Kim Gilliland/ Photo Editor

Lake Cravath, located in downtown Whitewater, a few days after clean up was finished from a small contamination on Aug. 24. All water samples done after the contamination now come back clean.
photo by Kim Gilliland/ Photo Editor