Raccoon Creek Again Stained By Pollution Following Years Of Cleanup Efforts

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Septic tank waste and restaurant grease spread into a section of Raccoon Creek in Vinton County after a local business put too much waste in a dumping site nearby.

A 2 Z Sanitation, which offers septic tank cleaning, portable toilet services, and grease trap cleaning, was issued a permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to dump a regulated amount of grease and sewage in a field near the creek.

The business dumped an estimated 100,000 gallons of sewage and grease into the field, which was too much. Under the terms of its permit, A 2 Z was required to report an overapplication of waste on the site but did not.

Booms were placed in Raccoon Creek to help collect grease and sewage that migrated into the water from a nearby field used for dumping.
Booms were placed in Raccoon Creek to help collect grease and sewage that migrated into the water from a nearby field used for dumping. [Photo provided by Ohio Environmental Protection
After a heavy rainfall, the waste seeped into Raccoon Creek. An anonymous resident sent a complaint to OEPA, reporting smells of sewage and water with other substances in it.

Upon investigation on June 7, OEPA said there was “extremely heavy bacteria growth” along the sides of the stream, along with large collections of grease floating at the surface. Todd Zuspan, the owner of A 2 Z sanitation, said the waste was dumped into the field on June 1, but an OEPA official estimated the infiltration had been occurring for three to four weeks.

The site where A 2 Z was permitted to dump had large collections of grease and sewage, which was also found in nearby ditches, some of which flowed into the waterway. However, no dead fish were found by the OEPA, according to their reports from the incident.

Raccoon Creek has a history of pollution due to the acid mine drainage coming from both surface and land mining. The water was a red-orange color for a long time due to the substances in the stream, said Nora Sullivan, the Raccoon Creek Partnership board chairperson and an environmental specialist. 

After years of the creek being full of acid mine drainage, residents in Gallia County started a grassroots effort to clean up the creek in the 1980s. However, it wasn’t long until they realized helping Raccoon Creek was beyond the efforts of their group. 

In the 1990s, the six counties that encompass Raccoon Creek, including Vinton, Athens, Hocking, Gallia, Meigs and Jackson, partnered with OEPA, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and local landowners to form the Raccoon Creek Partnership. It coordinates efforts to restore the creek and keep it safe for animals living there.

The partnership has recently put a lot of money into further cleaning up the watershed while treating areas of concern. These efforts have targeted 110 miles of the creek, with over 20 projects.

“So, back when the coordination efforts started in the ’80s and ’90s, the EPA originally was like, ‘This is never going to be cleaned up; it’s impossible,’” Sullivan said. “Nobody listened, thankfully. They said, let’s try anyway. So with all this work that we’ve done in Raccoon Creek, the first 40 miles of the creek from the mouth up to about the town of Vinton is now what’s designated as an exceptional warm water habitat, which is the highest designation by the EPA for aquatic life use that the EPA can give at this point. So it went from being dead to being now an exceptional warm water habitat, because of the work that’s been done.”

Another large section of the creek has been designated as the second-best rating the EPA offers, Sullivan said. Other efforts to restore the region have included tree planting, protecting the edges of the creek path, invasive species removals and environmental education.

Because of the work of the partnership, the area is now required to be protected by environmental agencies because of how healthy the habitat is for wildlife. 

A 2 Z sanitation is required by the OEPA to clean up the contaminated area. OEPA’s final records of the incident on June 22 indicates they complied. Zuspan was required to update OEPA officials by text with photos of the creek and cleanup efforts.

They used suction technology and trash pumps to remove the bacteria on the edges of the creek, as well as to remove some of the grease from the water.

The company also deployed booms, a temporary barrier used to collect materials in water spills.

From June 7 when the spill was observed by OEPA to June 15, OEPA and Zuspan estimated 25,000 gallons of grease had been collected from Raccoon Creek and the ditches surrounding the field where A 2 Z was permitted to dump, some of which lead to the waterway. 

According to James Lee, a media relations manager at OEPA, A 2 Z Sanitation is working to prevent more grease and sewage from seeping into the creek and is working to remedy the soil as well.

A 2 Z has since stopped accepting waste and continues efforts to remediate the site by collecting free oils and grease on Raccoon Creek,” Lee said in an email.