Rivers' polluted past resurfaces
By Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Detroit Free Press
Much of the estimated 255,000 gallons from the 2002 spill
is believed to have been swept downstream by the Detroit
River current and to have disappeared into Lake Erie.
Some oil-soaked shoreline vegetation was cut and removed
from Lake Erie Metropark. Ten birds and two turtles died.
Coast Guard contractors using booms -- floating sausage-shaped
buoys that contain and absorb contaminants -- kept oil
from soiling environmentally sensitive areas like Humbug
Marsh and the Pointe Mouillee marsh.
Divers found no oil on the bottom of Lake Erie, near
the mouth of the Detroit River.
No studies are planned to assess potential long-term
"But it doesn't just go away," said Sally Petrella,
coordinator with the Friends of the Rouge, a Dearborn
Heights-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting the river.
"It gets into the soil and sand on the banks, and
can cause problems for microorganisms" at the bottom
of the food chain, she said.
The spill was an ominous reminder of a past when there
were no laws against spewing waste oil, chemicals and
untreated sewage into the Rouge and Detroit rivers.
Apathy about the oil- and sewage-matted rivers changed
in 1948, when angry Downriver sportsmen dumped truckloads
of their oil-soaked duck carcasses on the lawn of the
state Capitol in protest.
The Rouge River also gained unwanted national notoriety
in the late 1960s, when its polluted surface caught fire,
writes John Hartig, Detroit River navigator, in his new
book "Honoring our Detroit River." Laws since
then have dramatically reduced oil discharges. Today,
trace amounts of oil measured in parts per million are
allowed in some industry discharges.
Still, the failure to find the culprit sends a poor message,
"When you don't prosecute the big polluters, it
makes it more acceptable for people to dump their own
oil into drains," she said. "They think, 'Well,
it must not be that bad a thing.' But of course it is."