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More Than 600 Gallons of Oil Recovered from Dam

by Associated Press
The Daily News of Longview Washington, January 19, 2004

THE DALLES, Ore. -- Crews say they have recovered more than 600 gallons of toxic oil from within The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River after a leak but say they still don't know how much actually got into the river.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Sunday that the recovered oil is within the dam project and that more is being recovered from the sluiceway, which also is confined.

On Saturday an oil slick was visible for at least 23 miles below the dam. More than 180 juvenile shad fish were found dead.

However the engineers quoted state and federal fish and wildlife officials Sunday as saying no oiled birds have been found.

"Oiling and hypothermia are always a concern so we will be keeping an eye on our bird populations," said Steve Prybil, an Oregon Fish and Wildlife biologist.

Estimates of the size of the oil spill varied wildly on Saturday, with the Corps of Engineers estimating it at around 75 gallons while the federal Environmental Protection Agency said it could be nearer 1,000.

The Corps said Sunday it has drained about 7,000 gallons of the oil from the older three-stage transformer that began leaking Thursday, apparently as a result of freezing weather.

The transformer had been partially drained earlier. Officials say they won't know how much oil is in the river until the finish draining it to see how much is left.

The broken transformer is one of the last on the Columbia to use oil which contains polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

Oil containing PCBs was banned in 1978 after it was determined that they are cancer-causing.

But getting the toxic oil out of the machinery is an intricate process. Mark McIntyre of the federal Environmental Protection Agency said the oil is specific to a particular transformer, meaning that the entire machinery needs to be overhauled before a new lubricant can be introduced.

Transformers dating to the era before the ban can still use the tainted oil but new ones cannot.

The Corps of Engineers said more than 4,000 feet of boom had been placed at creek mouths and other sensitive areas to keep the oil from spreading.

The leak apparently began Thursday morning.

Greg deBruler, of Columbia Riverkeeper, a volunteer group that watches over environemntal aspects of the river, said Sunday that cleanup didn't start until Thursday afternoon and that employees of Foss Environental, who were called in to help do it, told him they were called "way to late."

He said an oil stain stretched clear across the river Friday at Hood River, 23 miles below the spill and that the oil had reached Bnneville Dam even further downriver.

He said each stage of the three-stage transformer at the dam can hold 6,000 gallons when full.

Brent Foster, also with Willamette Riverkeeper, said Sunday that oil was foaming at Bingen Marina across the Columbia from Hood River and that it was coming ashore elsewhere as well.

He said an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife boat was on the river again Sunday looking for signs of wildlife problems.

Associated Press
More Than 600 Gallons of Oil Recovered from Dam
The Daily News, January 19, 2004

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