A year later, worst of Michigan's oil spill is cleaned up

2011-07-08T00:00:00Z 2011-07-08T00:00:05Z A year later, worst of Michigan's oil spill is cleaned up

By BRETT FRENCH

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
July 08, 2011 12:00 am  • 

If you drove into Kalamazoo, Mich., today, there would be few signs that 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River a year ago.

“You can still smell a little bit of oil near the source of the spill,” said Jeff Spoelstra of the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council, an advocacy group. “If you were on the water, you would see where they took down a lot of vegetation. But it’s not a vast, dead wasteland that you might expect after such a significant oil spill.”

The Michigan incident involved about 20 times the amount of oil that was released in the recent pipeline failure at Laurel and involved a slow-flowing stream smaller than the Yellowstone.

On July 26, 2010, a 30-inch oil pipeline burst in a wetland near Marshall, Mich. The oil spread to Talmadge Creek and then into the Kalamazoo River, which was at flood stage. Emergency crews were able to stop the oil flow before it reached Lake Michigan.

Almost a year and $500 million in cleanup costs later, much of the spill has been removed by Enbridge Energy Partners, owners of the pipeline. The river still remains closed to the public where the spill occurred, mainly because of workers’ boat traffic, not because of toxic water.

The cause of the pipeline break has not been determined, and a finding is not expected for another six months.

Spoelstra said one of the biggest effects of the spill was to the creek and wetland. The affected portion of the creek was dug up to remove oily soil and was rebuilt and revegetated. One landowner near the site of the break had to move and said in a Kalamazoo Gazette video that he wasn’t adequately compensated for the loss of his home.

Deb Cardiff, director of environmental health for Kalamazoo County, said no long-term health impacts have been documented. Tests for groundwater contamination have come up negative. Most health complaints from residents — for headaches, nausea, sore throats and irritated eyes — came right after the spill.

“A year later, things are a whole lot better,” Cardiff said.

But Spoelstra said he’s still waiting to hear from the Environmental Protection Agency about some aspects of the spill, such as the effects on the river’s aquatic ecosystem.

“That’s probably, for us, the most frustrating thing,” he said.

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