Over 1,000 gallons of oil and some other chemicals spilled into the Chattahoochee River in the process of fighting a fire at a power plant near Smyrna Sunday, an environmental advocacy group says.
Sunday night, a transformer exploded at Georgia Power’s Plant McDonough, which is next to the river. According to Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, responders “discharged firefighting chemicals and between 1,000 — 4,000 gallons of oil into the nearby waterway” fighting the blaze.
No injuries were reported and no Georgia Power customers lost power because of the fire, according to Cobb County Fire and Emergency Services.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were on the scene, and downstream drinking water plant operators were notified, the environmental group said on its Facebook page.
“We are aware that oil is in the river and we are investigating Georgia Power’s and the agencies’ response. We will continue to provide updates as we evaluate impacts to the river,” the group said.
Cobb Fire spokesman Stephen Bennett said evidence pointed to an equipment malfunction causing the fire, though the fire was still under investigation Thursday. He said the oil likely came from the transformer that caught fire, and other chemicals were a foam product used to control and extinguish burning liquids.
“Due to the significant hazards, other gases/chemicals and equipment and their proximity to the heat being produced by the fire, our on scene commanders determined that there was a greater danger to the community if the fire were left to burn. The heat was so significant, that a combustible gas storage tank approximately 150 yards away necessitated the application of a master stream of water from an aerial ladder to keep it cool. Based on the best information we had at the time, it was determined that extinguishing the fire with a foam product was the best solution commensurate to the hazards,” he said in an email. “It was not until the next morning during daylight was it determined safe and light enough for our HazMat team to make an accurate assessment of the river.”
Since then, Georgia EPD has taken over assessing the river. A Georgia EPD representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said most of the oil from the transformer was contained onsite Sunday night, though “a limited amount” of oil and foam got into the river. He said the company has since been part of the efforts to clean up the river, and has notified local officials downstream about the fire and their response.