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Workers used a vacuum truck to collect oil that spilled onto surrounding gravel and embankment.

Oil spill not as severe as originally thought, experts say

by Lisa Jacobson
Feb 10, 2009

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EPA contractors survey damage from overflowed waste. 

Experts say that only 3,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Des Plaines River on Sunday, slightly less than half the original estimate of 6,500 gallons.

Approximately 2,500 gallons had been cleaned up by Tuesday afternoon, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicted the job would be completed by Thursday.

The spill occurred when two waste oil containment pits overflowed at a Caterpiller, Inc., facility in Rockdale, near Joliet. An estimated 65,000 gallons spilled, with some flowing into the river.

Ken Brockhouse, chief marine safety technician with the Marine Safety Unit of Chicago and superintendent of the river clean up, explained how it is done.

“In this response we use a containment boom,” Brockhouse said. “The purpose is to contain the product from further movement. That allowed cleanup contractors to effectively remove the oil.”

The boom is a floatable barrier with a skirt that keeps the oil from spreading on the water. With the oil spill contained, it was then removed from the river with what Brockhouse described as modern diapers, two-foot square absorbent pads that float on the surface of the river and soak up the oil.

The oil spill on land is vacuumed up with a “truck [that] has the ability to separate water from product at another site where water can be treated and the product disposed of in accordance with EPA laws,” Brockhouse said.

“We do get spills every now and then, but this is what we are prepared to deal with,” said Larry Ouzts of the Marine Safety Unit of Chicago.

“There is no concern for human health and there is no evidence that any aquatic life or water foul have been harmed,” said IEPA’s Maggie Carson.

Once the clean up is finished, both the water and soil will be analyzed to make sure they meet the EPA standards said Ouzts.

“You never want to have to do those things”, said Ouzts, “but when you do it’s nice when there is cooperation from everyone involved.”

Ouzts and other experts say the impact was minimized because of cooperation and quick response time of all involved.