Pollution Incidents

“If VFTU had not been formed over 40 years ago there would not be a wild trout
left in Chester County today.”

In 1988 Carl Dusinberre notes “I am amazed that trout are still in West Valley
and Valley Creeks. I was willing to work, cheerlead, donate, but was not optimistic.
Even now, I am not sure there will be trout in these streams in ten years…”

1964: Dr. Ralph Heister stops taking Conestoga High School students into Valley Creek because of the presence of the sewage fungus (actually a tightly sheathed filamentous bacteria) Sphaerotilus on the stream bottom. In the late 1960’s the Chester Valley Sportsmen Club discovered the Knickerbocker landfill, a limestone quarry located on a fault plane, was illegally accepting sewage sludge. This was one of the sources of Sphaerotilus.

June 21, 1964: National Rolling Mills, which was located at the intersection of present day Route 202 and Route 29, spilled cyanide into Little Valley Creek. This resulted in a total annihilation of aquatic life downstream to the mouth of Valley Creek at the Schuylkill River. Only the upper 4 miles of Valley Creek was spared. The cyanide poisoning was repeated April 17, 1979 with similar results. National Rolling mills paid almost nothing for sterilizing the stream either time.

1972: Studies by Conestoga High School students lead by Dr. Ralph Heister concluded the major problems in Valley Creek were organic enrichment, chemical barriers at outfalls, and sedimentation and scouring as related to runoff. The major contributors to enrichment were thirteen sewage treatment plants, most of which failed on a regular basis. In Valley Forge Park under low flow conditions 4.2% of the stream was effluent, some untreated. Raw sewage entered Valley Creek from many locations including the Candlewyck Diner near the intersection of Routes. 30 and 401 and the Fraser Theater. To sanitize the raw effluent, high concentrations of chlorine were used, bleaching the stream bottom for 50 to 100 feet downstream. Heavy metals (Fe, Mn, Ni, Pb) were leaching from the Knickerbocker Landfill.

1979 – 1983: Fish samples, collected by the Pennsylvania DER between February 19, 1979 and March 4, 1983 showed PCB levels as high as 4.4 ppm.

1980: The General Crushed Stone quarry was releasing warm water with heavy silt loading into West Valley Creek. Negotiations by Joe Armstrong resulted in night time releases which lowered the temperature, and changes to the gravel washing operation kept concentrations of silt out of the discharge.

January 11, 1981: Four drums of illegally dumped solvent were found in West Valley Creek, on a day when the wind chill temperature was about -35° F. VFTU volunteers secured and moved them to the creek side, after ascertaining the contents were not hazardous to such efforts. A government contractor removed them the next day.

September 1984: Heavily chlorinated drinking water was released into Crabby Creek, causing a substantial fish kill.

1985: An oil slick was noted on West Valley Creek below a sewage pumping station. This was traced to a leaking fuel tank which was cleaned up.

1985: Paoli Car Yards had been discharging PCB’s into Little Valley Creek by stormwater runoff from parking lots that had been treated with used transformer oil for dust control for many years. Although not technically a water pollutant, the carcinogenic PCB’s are embedded in the silt in Little Valley Creek and Valley Creek watersheds, and have worked their way up the food chain to the fish. This resulted in the termination of trout stocking in Valley Creek and the designation of Valley Creek and its tributaries as catch and release only waters.

June 27, 1997: A broken water main on the Worthington Steel property caused a fish kill on Little Valley Creek.

Prior to 2000, date unknown: An oil slick was noted in Crabby Creek, which was traced to illegally dumped paint cans in a small ravine adjacent to a painting contractor’s facility. Clean up was affected.

June 20, 2003: water main break spilling chlorinated water into Valley Creek causing a fish kill.

June 27, 2003: water main break spilling chlorinated water into Valley Creek causing a fish kill.

November 2, 2003: water main break spilling chlorinated water into Little Valley Creek causing a fish kill.

October 14, 2004: a gasoline truck overturned on Route 29 adjacent to Little Valley Creek. About 1,000 gallons of gasoline were not accounted for during the cleanup. Luckily, heavy rains were occurring at the time and in addition the gasoline stayed on top of the water and likely evaporated quickly. There was no apparent damage to aquatic life in the stream, although no official post spill in-stream assessment is known to have taken place.

June 15, 2005: 157 dead brown trout were found from the turnpike bridge downstream to a couple of hundred yards below the Knox covered bridge. Only brown trout were effected. The cause was never determined.

December 28, 2005: 16 inch water main break in the vicinity of Route 202 and Swedesford Road spilled muddy chlorinated water into Trout Creek and through Wilson Run into Valley Creek for 6 hours before being turned off. 15 redds had been observed in Valley Creek below Wilson Run on December 5. Chlorine levels were measured at 3 times the amount required to kill trout.

July 30, 2008: A water main break near Cedar Hollow Road and Matthews Road caused a fish kill. 8 trout were found, but determining the total killed was difficult due to the muddy water.

August 12, 2008: A water main break closed Route 202. The impact on Valley Creek is unknown.

May 28, 2009: fire suppression system supply line break on PECO property caused chlorinated water to flow into an unnamed tributary of Little Valley Creek. The DEP counted 107 fish killed along with other aquatic life including salamanders, crayfish and worms.

June 18, 2009: raw sewage discharged into Crabby Creek from overflowing manholes.

June 22, 2013: A gasoline spill of several thousand gallons from the Buckeye Pipeline facility in East Whiteland was supposed not to have made it to Little Valley Creek yet residents of the area said the smell of gasoline was heavy in their back yards where Little Valley Creek flows.

2012-2014: Tredyffrin Township sewer main breaks. The first leak from the 30 inch force main sewer line occurred in March 2012. Two massive ruptures in February and March 2014 resulted in the discharge of approximately 21 million gallons of untreated sewage directly into Valley Creek from the pumping station just upstream of the Valley Forge National Historic Park boundary.

January 2016 (first week): Water main break caused by construction accident at Route 202 and Route 401. No fish were reported killed.

January 11, 2016: 12” water main break on Cedar Hollow Road near Vanguard. 120 fish reported killed.

January 18 & 19 2016: 6” water main break on Swedesford Road in front of the Chester Valley Golf Course. On day 1 the water was too muddy to see the fish killed. On day 2, 270 fish from fingerlings to 20 inches were observed killed, along with numerous frogs, minnows and salamanders.

April 23, 2018: Fire suppression system supply line break on PECO property caused chlorinated water to flow into an unnamed tributary of Little Valley Creek again. Dead fish observed from the entry point in Little Valley Creek downstream to the Knox covered bridge and beyond.  1,500 fish were reported killed.

August 2018: Fire suppression system supply line break near but not on PECO property discharged chlorinated water into Little Valley Creek but apparently did not cause a fish kill due to rainfall, high water levels and rapid response by Aqua America. The impact on amphibians, insects and other life in the stream is unknown.

November 5, 2021: A milk truck overturned on Route 202 in the vicinity of Route 29 and spilled thousands of gallons of milk into Valley Creek. The impact on fish, amphibians, insects and other life in the stream is unknown.

December 10, 2021: An 8 inch Aqua America water main ion Yellow Springs Road broke, spilling chlorinated water into Valley Creek at Salem Court. Aqua responded quickly to fix the break and deployed dechlorinization  tablets. No fish kill has been reported.

January 14, 2022: Shortly before 8:00 AM a 12 inch water main broke under the roadway of Route 401 in the vicinity of the rear driveway to Great Valley High School, between Route 202 and Phoenixville Pike. ACQUA reported it directly to the DEP. A VFTU member saw discolored water and dead fish and reported it about 8:10 AM. WCO Bob Bonney and a VFTU member counted a couple of hundred dead fish although the water was too turbid to see the bottom. The following day, with air temperatures hovering around 17 degrees, VFTU volunteers led by Bob Bonney counted about 1,000 dead fish, 300 of which were trout. No dead fish were observed downstream of the Knickerbocker landfill site. The USGS gauge just upstream of Valley Forge National Historic Park showed a very sharp spike from about 20 cfs to 40 cfs. The spike began about 1:00 PM and lasted for about one hour, although the gauge showed increased flow until 11:00 PM. Calculations based on gauge flow indicate about 1.44 million gallons of chlorinated water were discharged during the incident. Chlorinated water kills aquatic life by burning the gills until the organism can no longer absorb oxygen.

November 27, 2023: Valley Forge Trout Unlimited Environmental Chair Pete Goodman observed muddy water being discharged into Valley Creek on December 17. Our stream data loggers indicate that this had begun around November 27. This could not have happened at a worse time, since the brown trout in the stream spawn from the beginning of November into the middle of December, laying their eggs in the gravel of Valley Creek. The eggs incubate in the gravel for 4 to 10 weeks depending on the water temperature. Young trout stay in the gravel until the yolk sac is absorbed. Then they move out into the stream. This all happens as long as there is plenty of oxygen in the water. Silt as it precipitates out of the water fills and clogs the spaces between the gravel and suffocates those trout eggs or sack fry and all of the macro invertebrates that form the lower portion of the food chain in the stream.