Beer spill kills fish in creek --
and people drink this stuff?

Coors worker's mistake results in deaths affecting several species; contact with water discouraged

By Gary Gerhardt
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

GOLDEN — An employee at the Coors brewery spilled 2,500 barrels of beer into Clear Creek on Friday and killed thousands of fish.

The worker flipped the wrong valve Friday morning and sent beer that was supposed to go to a fermenting tank into a wastewater treatment facility instead and flushed it into the creek.

"The fermenting agent killed the microorganisms used in the wastewater treatment to eat organic matter, and that in turn allowed a high degree of organic matter into the river, which absorbed the oxygen and killed the fish," said Coors spokeswoman Aimee St. Clair.

"This is the wastewater facility used in the beer production only. It did not affect the facility used to treat human waste from the plant and from Golden."

She said the spill wasn't harmful to humans or animals other than the fish downstream from the brewery.

The state Health Department warned people to steer clear of the stream from the Golden plant to where the waterway joins the Platte River — east of York Street at 70th Avenue in Adams County.

Water Quality chief David Holm said the creek may have higher bacteria levels that could cause illness, particularly if the water is ingested, but that the risk was low.

Holm said Coors is working with his agency to get the wastewater treatment plant operating again.

That process includes "reseeding" the treatment facility with digested sludge from another treatment plant Coors operates for the city of Golden, St. Clair said.

Because the other treatment facility processes human waste, there is a slight chance bacteria from human waste could get into Clear Creek, she said, and people should avoid any contact with creek water for the time being.

No sport fish died in the spill.

"This area is not a quality trout stream," said John Woodley, a state Division of Wildlife aquatic biologist.

Woodley said his officers estimated thousands of fish were killed up and down the river.

College interns working for the wildlife division Friday counted 235 floating fish, all under 3 inches in length, on a 200-foot stretch of bank near where Clear Creek flows under Youngfield Street.

Several species died, including 220 long nose dace. The others were long nose suckers, yellow perch, green sunfish, sand shiners, smallmouth bass, black bullheads, carp and fathead minnows.

"They died and floated to the bank," said Shannon Albeke, one of the students. "The ants are already working on them."

Other dead fish may have begun to decompose in the creek, he said.

No fish are stocked downstream from Coors.

Woodling said officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency are involved in the investigation, and it isn't known if fines will be levied against the company.

Coors notified state officials as soon as the mishap took place.

The brewery is investigating precisely how the accident happened, St. Clair said.