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State is investigating hazmat spill and large fish kill near McLean-Livingston county line

An aerial view shows a small town called Weston and a nearby creek
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The dead fish turned up in Rooks Creek near Weston [about 30 miles northeast of Bloomington-Normal] and all the way north into Livingston County, officials said.
Updated: April 5, 2024 at 8:07 AM CDT
This story has been updated from its original version with a new statement issued Friday by BCS managing member Don Brucker.

State investigators are trying to determine whether a hazardous spill near the McLean-Livingston county line led to a large fish kill on a 20-mile stretch of creek. 

The dead fish turned up in Rooks Creek near Weston [about 30 miles northeast of Bloomington-Normal] and all the way north into Livingston County, officials said

Judy Ellinger runs the Raccoon Ridge wildlife rescue just north of Chenoa. Rooks Creek passes through her property. She was alerted to the problem by a neighbor, and then went to check the creek herself. 

“They were belly up. All dead. Every fish was dead,” said Ellinger, adding they called the police. “All of the woodland creatures here drink out of that creek. We have deer, raccoons, possums, skunks, you name it, they’re out here. They all drink from that creek. So that was my concern.” 

Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ fisheries and wildlife biologists and conservation police officers are working with the Illinois EPA to investigate the cause of the fish kill. 

They’re trying to determine if it’s related to Monday’s self-reported spill of about 20,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen by the agricultural supplier BCS. That happened at a company facility near Weston, where a containment system failed and the liquid nitrogen was released in the ground, according to a hazardous materials incident report from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency

“We are investigating that, as a report that came in,” said Kim Biggs, a spokesperson for the Illinois EPA. “We’re trying to confirm if the product that was released from that facility is what impacted the creek. So, we have done samples at both that facility as well as in the creek.”

Response from BCS

BCS is a soil fertility and pest management company, selling seeds, fertilizer and chemicals to farmers, according to its website.

In a statement Friday, BCS managing member Don Brucker apologized for the spill and said they were taking immediate action to address the situation.

"We have never had anything like this happen in 30 years of business, so we are still adjusting to the shock and disappointment of the event," Brucker said. "We understand the importance of preserving our ecosystem and ensuring the health of our waterways, and we are committed to identifying and rectifying any factors contributing to environmental degradation as we move forward."

Brucker said the spill happened because a storage tank developed a leak, and then the containment unit failed. They used absorbent oil dry to try to contain it, but an unknown amount still went down a tile hole, he said.

BCS is working with state officials to "assess the extent of the damage in order to make retribution and implement appropriate measures to prevent future occurrences for us and other ag businesses of the same nature," Brucker said.

"Our priority is to restore the affected ecosystem and mitigate any potential long-term impacts on aquatic life and surrounding habitats. We are actively working with the mentioned environmental organizations to foster transparency and collaboration in our response efforts," Brucker said.

People should avoid the creek

The Illinois EPA is working to determine what’s in the creek and what “remedial activity” may be needed as a result, Biggs said. The EPA also has a traditional enforcement process that begins with a violation notice against a responsible party. 

“In the interim, we ask that residents avoid contact with the creek while we continue the investigation,” Biggs said.

Ellinger said she’s never seen a fish kill like this in Rooks Creek in the 25 years she’s lived there. 

“Luckily it’s been raining and that’ll flush it out and they stopped the leak. Poor little fishies, though,” Ellinger said. “It was sad, because I didn’t know what was going on.”

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.