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ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARD: Crews contain oil spills on two fronts
Detroit, Rouge rivers have concentrations
Detroit Free Press

The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for the source of two oil spills in the Rouge and Detroit rivers.

The amount of oil in the two rivers is not known but is estimated at 500 gallons -- 200 in the Rouge and 300 in the Detroit River. The impact of the spill on fish, waterfowl and aquatic plants has not been determined. The lower Detroit River is home to dozens of species of fish and waterfowl.

The spill isn't likely to affect drinking water because intakes are submerged and the oil is floating on the surface, said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Hall of the Coast Guard's Detroit Marine Safety Office.

The spill in the Rouge was discovered and contained Tuesday, Coast Guard officials said. It covers about a 1 1/2-mile portion of the waterway just south of Detroit.

Several oil slicks in the Detroit River were reported by fishermen early Wednesday from the mouth of the Rouge south to Celeron Island. Later in the day, some of the slicks were off Pointe Mouilee in Lake Erie. Boaters were asked to avoid the area or decrease speeds to minimize wakes that would spread the oil toward shore.

Because of the river's fast current, it is likely that not all of the oil -- believed to be used motor or industrial oil -- will be contained and removed.

"You can't throw a boom across the Detroit River," Hall said.

"But we're intent on picking up everything we're able to pick up."

The spill in the Rouge came from a sewer outfall just west of the Fort Street bridge, Hall said. The drain was shut off and containment booms were put around the spill.

Hall said investigators will inspect along the sewer line to determine the cause.

"Maybe there's a business that had a problem with proper disposal of oil or maybe someone just dumped it into a sewer at night," Hall said. "We're taking samples and will match it to the possible sources."

It is likely that the source of the Detroit and Rouge river spills is the same, but investigators will look for a second source to be sure, Hall said. Fines could be levied against the responsible parties, he said.

Marine Pollution Control Corp. of Detroit is doing the cleanup. Charlie Usher, the company's executive vice president, said when cleaning up oil spills, several containment booms are used to keep the slick confined.

Absorbent pads or vacuums are then used to remove the oil from the contained area. It was not known how long the cleanup would take.

Usher, whose company began cleaning up spills in 1967, said oil accidents in the Rouge and Detroit rivers were common years ago but have decreased in the past decade or so.

Tim Payne, southeast Michigan wildlife supervisor for the state Department of Natural Resources, said his department will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We want to see what wildlife are in that area," he said. "If it's only a handful of birds then we have rehabilitators on the ground who can handle it."

If a bird is coated with heavy oil, it could could lose its buoyancy and drown, Payne said. If the oil is lighter, a bird may be able to clean itself.

"I've heard some reports that some birds have landed in the oil and can get out, so maybe it's not a real heavy oil," he said. "So far we've not heard things that are big alarms to us."


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