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Oil Leaks from Dam into Columbia;
Impact Unclear

by Associated Press
The Daily News of Longview Washington, January 17, 2004

PORTLAND, Ore. -- About 75 gallons of oil leaked from The Dalles Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday. But an environmentalist group contended the spill was far worse.

The oil leaked from a transformer at the dam on Thursday, corps spokesman Matt Rabe said. He said a seal damaged during last week's frigid weather caused the leak.

Cleanup operations began immediately, Rabe said.

About 200 to 300 gallons of oil leaked from the transformer, but most remained in the unit, Rabe said.

Environmentalists, however, contended the spill was much larger than what the corps was reporting.

Greg deBruler of Columbia Riverkeepers said a 6,000-gallon tank had emptied into the river, while another leaked an undetermined amount, making it possible that up to 12,000 gallons had leaked into the Columbia.

He cited a source from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, but Michael Zollitsch, DEQ emergency response coordinator, said he didn't have any figures different than the ones released by the corps.

"Right now, I think it's anybody's guess as to how much has actually been spilled," Zollitsch said. "They won't know that until they determine the volume at the source and how much they have left once they have it all contained."

Rabe said the corps was going to drain the affected transformer Saturday afternoon so they would know "without a doubt" how much was released.

On Friday, oil was spotted in the Columbia River as far away as Hood River, about 23 miles downstream of The Dalles Dam.

"It's not like this big plume of oil moving downriver," Rabe said. "It's more like small bands of oil. If you just imagine small ribbons of an oil sheen moving downriver."

But deBruler said the sheen of oil stretched from bank to bank. He said he drove a 24-mile stretch of the river and went out on it in a boat.

"It's a big river, and there's lots of oil all over the river," deBruler said. "This isn't a small spill. It's not 75 gallons. No way. They're lying."

The corps hired Foss Environmental to clean up the spill using vacuum pumps and absorbent materials.

"Our intent is to get in there and get it all out," Rabe said.

The environmental impact of the oil spill was not immediately known.

Officials recovered 185 dead juvenile shad from the containment area, but Rabe said it was too early to say what the cause of death was.

"They will be doing toxicology exams to determine that," Rabe said.

DeBruler speculated that the damage would be much greater than 185 fish.

"If they say there's 185 fish, there's more than that. If they say there's 75 gallons (in the river), there's more than that," deBruler said.

DeBruler was also concerned that the oil would harm waterfowl that are swimming on the river. "If this oil gets on their feathers and they get coated, they'll die of hypothermia," he said.

The oil contains polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in a concentration of 8 parts per million. Rabe said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers anything over 50 parts per million to be hazardous.

Associated Press
Oil Leaks from Dam into Columbia; Impact Unclear
The Daily News, January 17, 2004

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