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    Posted July 26, 2010 by
    ahknaten
    Location
    Ann Arbor, Michigan
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Toxic America

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    (Im)pure Michigan Oil Spill - Ann Arbor & Huron River

     

    For those who may read this IReport, for citizens in Ann Arbor, for a city without a local newspaper and for those who work with environmental spills in other places, I have tried my best to put together an update on the oil spill on the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan on June 19, 2010. I have tried my best to give a summary and hopefully a few recommendations for other communities. Today I heard more information on it, and after compiling information from various sources, I'll do my best to summarize the spill.

    On June 19th around 7:15, we noticed something oily in the Huron River, near the arboretum, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We ran down to inspect it and noticed the 'minor' oil spill was much bigger than we thought and called 911. We waited by the river for the fire department's arrival. The oil spill covered the width of the river and in photographs; the dark spots indicate 'clean' water and the light spots are full of oil. The spill flowed for at least 2 hours and covered the river at our vantage point. The fire department and OSEH were the first responders and the spill was traced to an outfall at parking lot M29 near Nichols Drive. At least 1 kayak was travelling through the spill and it is unclear if any information was recorded from them. Friends state that he complained of his eyes hurting. Later that evening, 2 canoes (appearing to be the type that one can rent) went through the oil and water as well. According to reports on www.annarbor.com, the discharge was characterized as a chemical spill and it was stopped as booms were placed to collect as much of the substance as possible. Upon further investigation, I found through the Huron River Watershed Council that 2 booms were placed. One was placed at the outfall, but it was compromised during the storm that night. Another boom was placed in Gallup Park and 'should have captured all of the material'. A sample size was taken, but concerns were raised as to the size of the sample. As the system 'was their system', the OSEH took responsibility for the cleanup and reporting. The fire department, Emergency Management, WCWRC, WWTP were notified and others were notified by the HRWC. Others may have been notified as well. From the DNRE I learned that not all of the material was captured and contained as rains complicated the cleanup efforts that night.

    As for the reporting by OSEH; since this was an oil spill to the environment, it  flowed down the river for quite a few hours, the source is unknown, the quantity is unknown and the type of oil is unknown, and not all of the oil was collected as it dispersed into the Huron River, I presume that section 1.6 of the notification requirements might be necessary?  Under discharges that 'may' endanger the environment.

    http://www.oseh.umich.edu/stormwater/SWMP2010.pdf

    I presume the name of the person responsible, location of discharge, nature of the discharge and pollutants may be hard to describe as those are unknown?

    No notification of the spill was made on police beat websites. No immediate notification was made on other emergency related sites. People were not notified at either of the canoe liveries about the spill that had happened that week, and they went canoeing through the area. Perhaps it was a non-issue as the rains (presumably) swept the oil away, but people were still not notified of it. Notifications were not made at either of the canoe liveries, and during the next week I watched as people swam, fished and canoed in the river. Notifications were made about skateboarders and broken harnesses on police beat websites, but nothing relating to the spill. The only (known to me) public disclosure of this event occurred at www.annarbor.com and through my CNN IReport and YouTube videos. As far as I know, no other photos or video of the incident were available during the week following the incident. But, I am not alone as a witness to this event; as the first responders saw it as well. I tried collecting information during the week, but from many of the agencies I was met with 'no comment', 'you need to talk to someone else', 'we haven't heard of a spill', 'the spill was like a weedwacker', 'i'm sorry, they are on vacation/weekend now' and plenty of hang-ups, busy signals and voice machines. From a security official I was even able to learn about an incident involving an ambulance and a fuel spill, but when I tried asking about the time or place and circumstances, I was met with 'no comments' and more hang-ups. It was hard to get information about the event. Phones were busy, calls were not returned and I was left with very little data.

    However, I am very thankful and appreciative of the professional and courteous responses I received from the DNRE, State Police and the Huron River Watershed Council. Both deserve to be thanked for their help. Both listened to my concerns and were responsive in a friendly, courteous and concerned manner. I felt like, 'they truly cared' and for that I am thankful. I am also very thankful for the quick response by the fire department. They came to the scene very quickly and they worked hard. So, a huge thanks to the HRWC, State Police, the DNR and the FD. Thank you.

    I learned from the DNRE, that during that week the spill was investigated by UM personnel and they checked all the buildings in the area. They were unable to find a source to the spill. The chemical was determined that it was not fuel, but oil. Although the outfall was located nearby, they ruled out a helipad as that did not drain into the same storm sewer as the spill. In the days following they kept an eye on things and were unable to locate more oil. Although I saw a substance in the outfall 5 days later, it was decided that it was discharge from the rains during the night before. A written report is being put together by the OSEH for the DNR and UM will continue to monitor the storm sewer.

    Upon further investigation, I learned from the HRWC, who heard from the OSEH, that it was a petroleum-based substance. (NOTE -- The OSEH refers to it as a 'petroleum based' substance, the DNRE refers to it as 'oil'). I also found out that, "All evidence of the material has since been cleaned up and the emergency response materials have been removed as well".

    Some concerns were raised by the agencies,

    "The lack of an identified source is problematic, though"

    "It is unfortunate that responders were unable to determine a source of the spill despite their best efforts"

    Personally, this investigation has created a headache. I had a headache after the spill occurred (as I was exposed to it from the fumes). I had headaches throughout the week, and after spending a few hours along the river near the spot that was polluted earlier in the week, I had a headache once again. I have received comments ranging from thankfulness to accusations of fear mongering, when all I've tried doing is reporting on what I saw, the photos I took and what has happened in a city where the dominant news headlines were focused on celebrities and the art fair (I like both, but as I live and canoe along the river, this concerns me).  Ann Arbor no longer has a daily home delivered newspaper, and so as the world of journalism changes, so do the avenues that one receives that news. This event, would have been much more evident and would have created a public outcry had it occurred on a Sunday afternoon with hundreds of canoeists going down the Huron River. 'Thankfully' it occurred on a weekday night when few people were on the river and perhaps 'thankfully to some' on a night when rains would disperse the evidence.

    This spill was characterized by the DNRE as "a minor spill and an isolated event of unknown origin". After speaking with the OSEH, the HRWC noted “So, it sounds like it was an unreported, one-time, small volume spill and is not a chronic issue.”

    So, from my perspective, to be a bit cynical… although this spill is nothing like the spill in the gulf…

    Although it involved multiple agencies, was spread out over a significant area and viewed for hours, took a week (or more to investigate and get some answers), the type of oil was undetermined, booms were unable to collect all the oil (the rest was dispersed by the rains), the source of oil was undetermined, and many people would offer ‘no comment’… this was only a minor oil spill.  Minor compared to the gulf, but it is the largest spill I have ever witnessed on the Huron River. That’s one hell-of-a weed-whacking minor oil spill. I hope from this, other communities and agencies can learn a few things:

    1. Improve on gathering evidence and analyzing it. This is extremely important. The inability to determine what the stuff is seems illogical and troublesome to me. From my understanding of HAZMAT related stuff, this is extremely important. Educate other communities on what mistakes were made.  Report card: F minus.

    2. Improve on finding the source. Find it.  Educate other communities on what mistakes were made.  This is extremely important.

    3. Improve on notifying the public. When I spoke to a doctor about my headache during the week, he was unaware of the spill. Even though the spill happened nearby, he was unaware of an oil spill in his backyard. Thanks to the doctor, complaints to whomever failed to inform him.

    4. For those that answer phones and emails – be polite, concerned and helpful. No comment, hang-ups, voicemails and the inability to listen is frowned upon. It creates more questions and suspicions. Listening (or at least pretending to listen) to the concerned caller is of utmost and respected importance. The concerned caller is calling and trying to find information. After all, they might be the one who called 911 in the first place and made a conscious effort to do ‘the right thing’. Do not assume they are stupid or a ‘layperson’. Talk intelligently. Again, the HRWC and the DNRE treated me with respect and professionally, and for that I am thankful.

    5. I’m unsure if this applies to this particular case, but… improve on working together. For example, I called one police department and they were unaware of the spill. Another police department knew of the spill. When I call the desk at either police department, I should be able to talk to either one about the spill, or at the very least they should know of it and let me know who I can talk to about it.

    I hope I never have to report on a ‘minor’ spill again. This just downright sucked.

    -kai

    Links:

    I-Reports:

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-474201

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-475358

    You-tube video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSqM6Pcf5cQ

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK2g1CjJ7ag&feature=related

    Ann Arbor.com web reports:

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/chemical-found-in-huron-river-was-petroleum-based/

    http://www.annarbor.com/news/chemical-discovered-in-huron-river-near-university-of-michigan/

    Police beats / safety alerts:

    http://police.umich.edu/?s=crime_log

    http://www.a2gov.org/government/safetyservices/Police/Pages/NeighborhoodWatch.aspx

    Huron River Watershed Council: http://www.hrwc.org/

    Michigan DNR: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr

     

    OSEH: http://www.oseh.umich.edu

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