Environment News Service (ENS)

Environment News Service (ENS)

Fuel Fire Runoff Fouls Spokane River

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

SPOKANE, Washington, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - A spectacular fire that destroyed a fuel warehouse in North Spokane late Monday has spilled oil into the Spokane River that crews from the state Department of Ecology now are working to contain.

'We have no idea how much oil escaped,' said Ecology spokeswoman Jani Gilbert.

The warehouse is owned by Whitley Fuel LLC, Spokane's largest Shell distributor. Gasoline, diesel fuel, racing fuel, motor oil, hydraulic transmission oil, and heavy lubricant oil were stored there. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

An estimate of how much oil was spilled will take several more days because drums full of petroleum products at Whitley Fuel are still exploding, each burst releasing more fuel into the storm drains.

Ecology officials on a helicopter fly-over Wednesday said they saw an oily sheen in a wetland upstream of Nine Mile Dam on the Spokane River.

Sheen was visible from the air in several other areas, with the heaviest patches observed near the Nine Mile Dam. One ribbon of sheen three yards wide runs from Plese Flats Park to Seven Mile Bridge.

Crews in boats are checking for pockets of petroleum along the shoreline and determining whether it can be recovered from the water.

Ecology officials say the 360 gallons of fire-fighting foam used to douse the fire Monday night is starting to biodegrade, allowing petroleum products to surface.

The Spokane Regional Health District is evaluating the public health risk from the petroleum and cleanup products in the environment.

Initially, the risks appear to be 'low' but health officials said, 'People should avoid exposure to breathing petroleum vapors and any contact with oily residues associated with this incident.'

The Spokane City Water Department is testing nearby wells for groundwater contamination in an attempt to ensure that city water meets drinking water quality standards.

Petroleum products in a grassy swale near the Whitley Fuel site have been excavated to protect a nearby city drinking water well. The swale will be covered today to keep rain from pushing remaining contamination into the groundwater.

The Spokane Wastewater Management Department is in the second day of a week-long process of 'hydro-cleaning' the stormwater system. Large vacuums are sucking water out of the pipes and a de-greasing agent will be used to wash them down.

Barrier tape has been placed around the stormwater outfall at T.J. Meenach Bridge to keep people away from the spill in case more oil is flushed to the outfall and into the Spokane River.

People can protect the river by not using power-washing equipment or washing cars in their yards to keep water out of North Spokane storm drains, said wastewater management officials.

'The current risk to public health from petroleum and cleanup products entering the city's stormwater system and the Spokane River appears to be low; however, we are still investigating the situation,' the health district said.

Meanwhile, people are advised to avoid swimming, fishing or other water recreation below the outfall until further notice.

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