News Articles Featured | The American Independent | July 20, 2011
Levels of heavy metals have increased in water samples being conducted along the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek nearly a year after an oil pipeline ruptured in the area spewing an estimated one million gallons of oil into the waterways.
Enbridge Energy Partners admitted in August of last year that the Lakehead Pipeline 6B was filled with a thick oil extract known as tar sands oil. The oil is found in hardened forms, and is removed from the ground by injecting steam into the ground to melt the oil. The oil then is mixed with chemicals to thin it out in order to pump it through pipelines. Tar sands oil contain much higher levels of heavy metals than conventional crude.
In late August, 2010 EPA officials confirmed water samples were producing slight detection of both mercury and nickel ‚Äî common heavy metal contaminates of tar sands oil. EPA said then the levels were nothing to be concerned about.
On Tuesday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced it had been detecting several heavy metals and other contaminates at levels above what are considered safe.
"What we do see are elevated levels in areas of contamination that exceed some of the state's criteria for groundwater and surface water criteria," said a MDEQ official whose name was not clear in a recording of the press call with federal and state officials updating about the oil spill recovery work.
The official noted the department was continuing to monitor for several heavy metals including mercury and nickel.
"Those compounds were all found in the original crude oil that was released, which is why we're monitoring for them," he said.
Mark Durno, the EPA's deputy on-scene incident commander, said officials had not considered heavy metal testing until last summer when Michigan Messenger made inquiries related to the heavy metal contamination of tar sands oils.
"We had this exact same question back in August of last year. So we, at the reporters' request, did some background checks into the actual oil that was released." said Durno. "We collected analytical samples of the oil that was released to see what metals were present and compared it with what we were seeing in the sediment at the time and in the water column at the time. And we did see some low levels of mercury and nickel ‚Äî which is what we expected to see, actually."
A report from the MDEQ on testing and other activities from May, 2011 indicated some heavy metal contamination.
The heavy metal contamination is part of the character of the tar sands oil, but it is not the only issue the thick oil has caused for the cleanup.
"After a comprehensive assessment this past spring, we've identified approximately 200 acres contaminated with submerged oil that will require further clean up," said Susan Hedman, EPA Region 5 administrator. "Capturing and cleaning up this heavy oil is a unique challenge. No one at the EPA can remember dealing with this much submerged oil in a river."
Durno indicated that much of the submerged oil was moving along the river bottom, and collecting at certain points along the river including just above the Ceresco Dam, as well as at the mouth of Morrow Lake. A photograph from earlier this month of Morrow Lake, which officials had originally felt they had protected from contamination, shows a large swath of the tell-tale rainbow slick on the surface of the water to indicate oil.
In early November, Messenger accompanied former oil spill cleanup worker John Bolenbaugh as he showed location after location of submerged oil in the river. This included a lilypad area above the dam.
"The footprint of the oil was bigger than we anticipated to see," said Durno. He indicated that the tar sand oil had created a unique situation wherein clean up efforts required both traditional oil spill techniques, but also took on characteristics of "a tar like spill."