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Oil Sludge Clogs Des Plaines River

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Feb 9, 2009 4:20PM

2009_02_09_oil.jpg Things are a mess at the Caterpillar plant in Rockdale (near Joliet) this morning after a holding tank overflowed, sending 65,000 gallons of oil sludge spilling out into the surrounding area. Of that, 6,000 gallons wound up in the Des Plaines River. By Sunday night, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials claimed the spill had been contained and, according to spokeswoman Maggie Carson, "there is no evidence of a fish kill or harm to water fowl." Ginny Narsete, a spokeswoman for the U.S. EPA, said there was not enough oil or sludge in the water to cut off the oxygen supply to any fish in the river, the biggest danger in these situations. Of course, it was a three mile stretch of the Des Plaines that was affected, so while it's not out of the question there wasn't much harm to wildlife, it's still 6,000 gallons of oil sludge; that's going to mess with some part of the eco-system, right? Officials insist there is no eminent danger to any humans living in the area, though.

The sludge leaked from a 40,000 gallon holding tank when a pump, intended so shift the sludge to another holding tank, failed, causing the filled tank to overflow. There's been some confusion as to what exactly is contained in the sludge. Per the Sun-Times:

The substance was reported to be hydraulic and cutting oil, Carson said but the Joliet Police Department believed the spill to be a mixture of oil and antifreeze. Ginny Narsete, spokeswoman for the U.S. EPA, said the substance is actually oil that has already been used and can have any number of other substances mixed in, including antifreeze.

With the Coast Guard containing the spill using a boom, a floating wall of sorts that contains the spill. They'll then use vacuum trucks to remove the waste from the river, a process that officials estimate could take several days to complete.

In a statement, Caterpillar said "an undetermined amount of waste oil" had been spilled and added:

Caterpillar has notified appropriate authorities about this overflow and the company immediately began corrective action when the overflow was discovered. The company is coordinating efforts to contain and remediate this overflow.

Caterpillar is committed to being a responsible environmental steward and community partner, and the company will investigate the cause of this incident and will put in place management practices that minimize the potential for future occurrences.

[Trib, Crain's, Sun-Times]

Image from ABC 7 video