oil spill

Three Years Later: EPA Continues to Clean Up Kalamazoo Oil Spill

Three years ago today, EPA responded to one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.  When we arrived on scene, oil from a ruptured pipeline was pouring into the Kalamazoo River – a Great Lakes tributary.

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Site of the 2010 Enbridge oil pipeline spill

At the time of the spill, it was raining hard and oil was carried quickly downstream in the fast-moving river – flowing over dams and flooding riverbanks.

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Simulated Oil Spills are Dirty and Fun to a Seven-Year-Old

By Sara Russell

“Wow!”

“Ooooh!”

“Cool!”

These are reactions I got from a class of 2nd graders as two drops of soap hit our simulated oil spill of salt water and vegetable oil laden with cocoa powder. The minute the soap hits the “spill,” the oil runs and clings to the edges of a milk carton. Next, the kids simulated waves in the water, and the oil broke up and slowly descended. I don’t work with kids every day, but when I do, it’s fun and I get to share my enthusiasm for the work we do at EPA.

Every May, my sons’ elementary school, Farallone View in Montara, California, hosts “Oceans Week.” All week long the kids learn about the Pacific Ocean just blocks from the school. From campus you can even see the Farallone Islands, which are part of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

This year I thought I should teach them about ocean oil spills, since we just passed the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon event. I wanted the kids to learn more about the consequences of an oil spill and the challenges of cleanup. I showed them images of the blast and the oil in the water, on wildlife and on the shores. The kids asked a lot about the workers on the drilling platform, and we talked about how dangerous this work is. And just like the rest of us, they were really drawn in by images of oil-soaked birds. They worried about the effects on wildlife, both on shore and in the ocean.

We created salt water oceans in used plastic milk cartons and replicated an oil spill. The kids took turns using various sorbents like cotton balls, paper towels and string, and then rated how well they worked. I also had them dip a feather into the water so they could see what an oily bird has to deal with.
Finding ways to explain complex environmental issues is always challenging, but well worth it. Lessons that involve kids, like stream monitoring, habitat restoration and beach cleanups, are a great way to introduce them to their environment. What do you and your family do to explore and help protect the environment?

About the author: Sara Russell is a Brownfields Project Manager in EPA’s San Francisco office. When not at work she volunteers with her sons’ Cub Scout dens.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Administrator Jackson: Dispatches from the Gulf Coast

Blog from Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at 7:17 p.m. Saturday, May 1.

Administrator Jackson thanks volunteers

Administrator Jackson thanks volunteers

Steel toe boots.

Fishermen, shrimpers and other men and women of the Gulf community turned out in droves. I met them at community centers, churches and city hall. They all had one question: how can I help?

The fishermen at Shell Beach said they’d do anything to head out and lay boom. They wanted to help right now. Their way of life was on the line. But, some said they hit a peculiar roadblock: their shoes. Yes. You read correctly.

Fishermen were told they could not take part in efforts to lay boom unless they wore steel toe boots. That is absurd.

These men and women have spent their lives on these waters. They know them better than anyone and don’t need anybody’s steel toe boots to sail them now. Especially when so much is at stake.

A simple phone call to BP fixed this problem. Footwear should absolutely not impede the thousands of Gulf Coast residents who want to save their way of life.

Workplace safety is terribly important. But it’s unacceptable to tell men and women, who know these seas like the back of their hands, that they can’t help lay boom because of their footwear.

This seems to be an easy fix. Other problems in this complex situation won’t be so simple. But it shows that a desire to put problem solving above process is critical as we address this environmental challenge of the highest order.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Administrator Jackson: Dispatches from the Gulf Coast

Blog from Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at 10:25 a.m. Friday, April 30.

Administrator Jackson and Secretary Salazar

Administrator Jackson and Secretary Salazar

Just finished our overflight. The extent of the spill is dramatic.

I’ve already heard good ideas to deal with landfall. As I said, we are assuming the worst case scenario. In the real world, booms break. So we have to listen to locals, shrimpers, sheriffs, oystermen, emergency managers and others who may have low tech ideas to protect our precious marshes.

I will spend the next days meeting with folks to bring ideas back. How about using hay or other material to protect sensitive oyster beds or shrimp nurseries? Can we create some buffers around our marshes? Good ideas that we will discuss with the on-scene coordinators as soon as we land.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Convey the Message: How Social Media Helps Us Serve you Better

On January 7, 1994, as I was about to leave for another semester at Loyola University in New Orleans, there was an oil spill in San Juan Bay. An oil tanker leaked 750,000 gallons of fuel in the Atlantic coastal area. I read the news two days later in my first class on News Editing. That was the first time I used the Internet in a classroom. My professor, a seasoned journalist and a great mentor, asked me, “Aren’t you from San Juan?” We read the story on a California newspaper Web site. Countless pictures from the disaster spoke for themselves. EPA personnel from Caribbean Environmental Protection Division were on the scene responding to the disaster.

A few weeks ago, when the CAPECO oil tank farm in Bayamon burst into flames, less than a mile from home, I went straight to the Internet for information. While most local news sites only had a few sentences on the incident, some of my friends had already posted their amateur videos of the fire on Facebook. As a public affairs specialist, I can tell you that we’ve come a long way from just using traditional media tools. Nowadays messaging happens in realtime. The Internet and social media have added a new dimension to the field of communications.

The blog you are reading is part of this new dimension. When I was asked to write for Greenversations, I was a little hesitant. With training from EPA’s Office of Public Affairs, I got it nailed. Since blogs are statements from a personal perspective, they are a great tool to quickly strike a resonating chord with the reader.

Recently I read a speech on social media given by GSA’s Chief Information Officer. In it she emphasized how government is changing the way it interacts with citizens through blogging. I also read an article on crisis communications which discussed how blogging shapes our response to a crisis. It provides timely information from a human perspective. A human voice can help connect with the public’s emotional response during a crisis. I invite you to read Greenversations or Gov Gab at USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov It is one way to stay connected with the people we work for: the general public.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the SanJuan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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"…Like a Train Wreck"

About the author: Dan Heister has been an on-scene coordinator with Superfund in Region 10 since 2000 and joined EPA 13 years before that. Dan’s responses have ranged from fifty gallon oil spills on a small creek to spending seven weeks in a FEMA trailer helping with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Nine out of ten OSCs agree, if you’re going to respond to a petroleum spill, red diesel is the best kind. It floats, it’s less flammable and aquatically toxic than gas. It doesn’t persist and stain like a heavy oil, and wind and sunlight degrade it relatively quickly. It’s also red for higher visibility. It’s dyed red to indicate tax-exempt status for off-highway use (farm equipment, locomotives, etc.). That said, it is still extremely problematic for humans and the environment when spilled.

I responded to a train derailment in SW Oregon in October 2004. The train was on a steep grade when the tracks snapped, simultaneously derailing the train and puncturing the locomotive’s saddle tanks. Over 3800 gallons of red diesel went onto the ground and some into Cow Creek fifty feet below. Luckily there were no tank cars involved. Ten out of ten OSCs agree that derailed tank cars are a nightmare. The cargo was lumber, flatbed after flatbed. Going up the windy mountain road to the derailment (where my derailments always happen), you were struck by what looked like piles of tooth picks strewn along the other side of the river. Only they were 10, 12, and 16-foot long 2 by 4s.

The Command Post (CP) was placed .5 miles up from the spill, at the first wide spot in the road we located. On the second day the media began to make inquiries. A local TV station sent a reporter who appeared to be fresh out of college. She had made her way up to the CP to interview me. It was a small station (most outside Portland are) and she was camera man, producer, and reporter. Her questions were short and to the point and I answered them directly. As she was packing up her tripod she asked: “Could you show me where the wreck is?” I looked over my shoulder up the road knowing it dead-ended about five miles away, and then I asked her which way she took to get to the CP. As I had suspected she had come up past the wreck, but had not seen the carnage. I went back down the road to show her the “tooth picks.” She looked stunned and seemed a bit sheepish. I then said: “Hence the expression, ‘like a train wreck.'” Sheepishness quickly turned to a glare.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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