Accident in Roundabout Floods Middlebury with Milk


By Hye-Jin Kim

At first, it appeared to be an “udder” disaster.

Last Friday, Feb. 26, an Agri-Mark owned tanker separated from the truck and overturned at the roundabout in downtown Middlebury, spilling roughly 40,000 pounds or 4,600 gallons of milk into the street. No one was injured, though most of the milk ran into Otter Creek.

Alex Browne ’18, a volunteer for the Middlebury Fire Department, responded to the scene. “There wasn’t much we could do besides try to dilute the milk [before it flowed into Otter Creek],” he said, noting the metal opening where the leak was located had been too warped by the initial impact to be wrenched shut.

According to the Vermont Department of Natural Resources, a large input of any organic matter (whether milk or more commonly, manure) increases the risk of eutrophication and oxygen depletion in aquatic ecosystems. Microbes in the water require oxygen to decompose milk. A rapid spike in this type of microbial activity can deplete dissolved O2 levels and suffocate aquatic life.  The oils in milk can also directly clog fish gills. Due to the sheer volume of the spill, the milk was initially deemed a “toxic waste” by the Vermont Department of Natural Resources.

Following an initial investigation, the VT Department of Natural Resources confirmed that the spill did not cause significant environmental damage to Otter Creek. Though microbial activity is slowed by cold winter weather, recent mild temperatures caused by El Nino could pose a threat as scientists continue to monitor the creek in coming weeks.

There is an ongoing investigation on what caused the crash and who was responsible. A witness interviewed by the Addison Independent said a car had suddenly cut in front of the tanker inside the roundabout.

While milk spills are not common, roundabouts are well-known as treacherous territory for tankers. Most truck drivers are advised to avoid them when planning their routes, according to A simple Google search of “tankers” and “roundabouts” yields 154,000 hits; most of them are accident reports.

The average cost of a hundred-weight, or 100 lbs. of milk, currently sits around $16-17, according to Agri-Mark, a dairy cooperative based in Massachusetts with a processing plant on Exchange Street that also owns Cabot Creamery and McCadam cheese. Given that price estimate, the tanker’s roundabout mishap meant roughly $6,600 of milk flowed down Otter Creek last Friday. The entire clean-up, from milk dilution to towing the wreckage, took about six hours and caused heavy traffic up and down Main Street.