Creek turns white and fish struggle to swim after grocer dumps milk, Iowa agency says

TJ Macias
·2 mins read

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is investigating an incident of spilled milk into a stream connected to Fourmile Creek in Ankeny.

DNR officials were called out to the tributary on Wednesday morning after receiving reports that a stream to the creek had turned white and that the fish were “struggling near the surface,” the DNR news release said.

The department and Ankeny officials ended up tracing the water’s alabaster tint back through a storm drain to milk released at the Hy-Vee store at 410 N. Ankeny Blvd. in the town that is north of Des Moines. According to the DNR, 800 gallons of milk were dumped into the stream. Hy-Vee and DNR are working to prevent the milky water from seeping into Fourmile Creek, which is on the northeast side of town.

While no dead fish have been found as a result of the spilled milk, the release said that “as bacteria break down organic products the bacteria use up oxygen,” which can be troublesome in small creeks where low oxygen levels can kill fish.

“Materials that we think are harmless can actually be very toxic to the environment,” said Ted Petersen, DNR supervisor. “When disposing of a liquid into the municipal collection system, it’s important to check with the local wastewater treatment plant or DNR field office prior to disposal.”

Hy-Vee released a statement, according to KCCI.

“A Hy-Vee employee at our Ankeny store made an uninformed decision when instructing others on how to dispose of milk that had gone bad due to the recent power outages caused by Monday’s storms. The moment this was brought to our attention, we immediately began working with the City of Ankeny, DNR and a third-party environmental cleanup company to address any potential issues. We are covering all costs related to the cleanup. We also have enrolled the employees involved in environmental education training with the DNR so this does not happen again in the future.”

While large milk spills in waterways aren’t common, they aren’t unheard of — especially in Iowa.

In 2017, a tanker carrying milk in western Iowa spilled up to 7,500 gallons of milk into an Iowa waterway, the Des Moines Register reported. The milk reached the Middle Nodaway River through a 1.3 mile-long tributary.