State Ecology officials have deployed an emergency boom on the Columbia River near Wenatchee to contain a growing oil sheen of unknown origin.
The Department of Ecology says emergency response crews have placed a boom on the Columbia River near Wenatchee to contain a spreading oil sheen whose origin remains a mystery
Department spokeswoman Camille St. Onge said crews have been trying to find the source of the sheen since Friday without luck. She described the substance as “petroleum-like.”
Sgt. Kent Sisson of Chelan County Emergency Management told The Wenatchee World on Saturday that the oil sheen was about a mile long.
It was first spotted Friday after reports of a diesel-like odor in Wenatchee near the riverfront just south of the city center.
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St. Onge said unsuccessful efforts to determine the source of the sheen have included inspections of a nearby fuel distributor, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railcar switch station and a search through manholes and drainpipes, including the use of an underwater camera.
St. Onge said late Sunday that the sheen has been mostly contained by the boom and that teams are reviewing other methods to try to locate the source, including putting a diver into the water and using sonar.
Ecology officials have collected samples for testing in hopes of identifying the pollutant and where it came from.
In the meantime, crews from the Department of Ecology and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted a survey of the shoreline to determine if any fish, birds or other wildlife have been impacted. Crews spotted ducks, geese, a river otter and a marmot, but none appeared contaminated or injured.
“We want to contain and recover as much of the substance as we can,” said Jay Carmony, who is overseeing the spill response, in explaining the decision to deploy the boom Sunday.
“Diesel fuel and similar products can be difficult to recover because they are light and evaporate quickly.”
Carmony said the fast-moving river and high winds have made conditions difficult for response crews.
The response involves crews from Chelan County Emergency Management, Chelan County Fire District 1, Chelan Public Utilities, city of Wenatchee, the Department of Ecology and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
St. Onge said the Environmental Protection Agency is providing resources for investigation and cleanup.
The Wenatchee World reported Saturday that the sheen has appeared along the same stretch of the river as another mysterious spill a year ago.
That same portion of shoreline was the subject of another search March 3, 2016, when a similar spill was reported. The source of that spill was never found.