Oil spill prompts investigations

Oil spill prompts investigations

An oil sheen sprawled the surface of the Potomac River following a spill at the Royal Street Pepco plant on Sunday that prompted clean-up efforts and several investigations.

Pepco officials say they dont know what time a pipe pumping mineral oil into a 21,000-gallon cooling tank burst, flooding the safety reservoir and leaking about 5,500 gallons into the river and ground, but they believe it was sometime real early Sunday morning, Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said.

I would say that its a significant spill, said Mark Miller, pollution response coordinator for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Its hard to quantify its not as large as the Gulf of Mexico [spill] by any stretch of the imagination, but 5,000 gallons into the river is significant, yes.

The mineral oil, used to cool transformers at the power companys Old Town plant, does not pose a danger to humans, but we still need to get it cleaned up, Hainey said. Pepco crews continued cleaning efforts through Wednesday after absorbent booms contained an undetermined amount of oil near the Alexandria shoreline.

The spill has killed a handful of waterfowl mostly ducks, Hainey said, but the Mount Vernon Trail along the river remained open as crews continued the clean-up process.

At least five environmental and public safety departments are investigating the incident, including the DEQ, Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Emergency Management and the citys fire department. 

There may have been a lag between the incident and the time authorities were notified, according to agencies involved.

We got the report around 9 a.m., said Bob Spieldenner, Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokesman. Weve got about 5,000 gallons [of mineral oil] unaccounted for.

The Alexandria Fire Department received notification of the spill at 10:33 a.m. and as of Wednesday had not confirmed what time the spill occurred. 

Once the oil entered the Potomac River, it exited Alexandrias jurisdiction, Alexandria Fire Chief Adam Thiel said.

We dont have any oversight responsibility, nor jurisdiction, but were staying close to it, Thiel said.