Vermont to Inspect Dripping Royalton Bridge

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Royalton Village —  A scientist with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation is coming to Royalton today to assess the apparent bleeding of creosote from a bridge deck into the White River.

During the recent record-setting heat wave, multiple people who were tubing on the river say they suffered chemical burns on their skin after the black wood preservative dripped off the bridge and into the water.

The sand, concrete supports, and vegetation beneath the town-owned bridge are speckled and streaked with the oily substance at the site, which will be visited by Watershed Management Division scientist Rick Levey, according to Kari Dolan, who manages the Clean Water Initiative Program for the Vermont DEC.

“He was talking about asking the municipality to put up signs,” Dolan said. “We want to come up with a short-term solution while we work on a long-term solution.”

The bridge drippings have been an intermittent feature of the bridge, which was reconstructed in 1982, for an estimated 30 years. Roughly 10 to 15 years ago, Royalton’s highway department workers removed the asphalt and laid down sand for a few years in the hopes that the creosote-treated wood would dry out, but the problem resurfaced earlier this year.

Tracy Borst, of Thetford, says that she, family members and friends were injured by the burns after tubing on the White River last week.

After Borst posted a warning about the burns on social media, others came forward with similar stories. Borst called Royalton officials to tell them about the problem.

The Royalton Selectboard expressed concern for the public’s safety during a Tuesday night meeting, but members said they were not sure how to proceed, according to draft minutes of the meeting.

They asked Town Administrator Rose Hemond to seek advice from the state agencies of environmental conservation and transportation, and from White River Partnership, a Royalton-based environmental group.

Hemond said the issue dominated her day on Wednesday, and that she still was formulating a response plan, but that the drippings would be tested to confirm whether they are indeed creosote.

Trevor Starr, District 4 general manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said he received a message from Hemond asking how the town might fix the problem, but that it’s a new one on him.

“We’re going to refer them to our structure folks in Montpelier,” he said.

Starr wasn’t sure why he’s never heard of this problem affecting other bridges, given that creosote commonly is used to protect wooden bridges, utility poles and railroad ties from rot and insects.

“It’s strange that it’s never been an issue before,” he said.

Dolan speculated that the problem is not confined to Royalton, and said part of the agency’s response will be to see whether other bridges might be releasing the chemical into other waterways during hot weather.

Dolan said older bridges might be at a higher level of risk. Though creosote has been widely used to treat wood for roughly 150 years, it wasn’t until 1986 that the federal government reclassified it as a “restricted-use pesticide,” and began requiring safety training standards for its use.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.