Breaking News: Potential Oil Spill on the Anacostia


Additional photos can be found on the AWS Facebook page.

Yesterday evening an oily substance was discovered covering a large section of the surface of the Anacostia River.  DC Fire Department crews were on the scene from 6:00pm Monday night until 2:00am Tuesday morning working to contain the spill.  The spill stretched from Bladensburg Road in Prince George's County, Md. to the 11th Street bridge near the Washington Navy Yard in DC.  Containment booms were deployed to keep the substance from spreading, but they didn't catch any pollution so they were removed this morning.  According to local news sources, initial tests show the substance is petroleum-based.  The US Coast Guard and the District Department of the Environment are investigating the situation. 

"AWS is deeply concerned about the possible spill and hopes that our government agencies will investigate this matter seriously and thoroughly," said the Anacostia Watershed Society's Director of Advocacy Brent Bolin. 

Anacostia Riverkeeper Dottie Yunger also expressed concern about the situation and its impacts on both the environment and communities surrounding the river.  "For decades, the Anacostia River has used been for industrial purposes.  As a result, the river and its communities continue to suffer the resulting environmental and health impacts.  This potential spill in the river is a tragic example of this legacy of disregard for a critical natural resource in our region."

An updated list of news articles on the potential oil spill can be found on the AWS News page.

From AWS Conservation Biologist Jorge Bogantes Montero:
We don't know exactly what type of oil is in the river but it seems to be light oil.  At any rate, any of these types of oils can affect aquatic organisms (fish, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, plants, etc.) in many ways.  Oil can contaminate plankton (algae, fish eggs and other organisms) and that leads to a chain reaction in the food chain where many species of animals, and even humans -- which is a concern in the Anacostia River because we know there are many subsistence anglers -- become contaminated too.  Not to mention the impacts of direct physical contact with the oil which can even kill birds and mammals.  The worst part is that oil tend to remain in the ecosystem for several decades, especially in the sediment, causing many changes in the species.  This is the last thing the Anacostia River needs.

From AWS Water Quality Specialist Masaya Maeda:
I am concerned that the oil film on the water prohibits oxygen supply into the water from the air.  There may be very low DO (Dissolved Oxygen) incidences for days to come, which could suffer or even kill aquatic animals.

I heard on the radio that the oil spread out from the mouth of the river to the Bladensburg Waterfront Park.  However, I did not see oil at the park when I started the boat around 11:00am today.  The low tide today was about 5:00am so most of the oil went downstream by the tidal action.  As soon as I came to Route 50, I smelled something similar to motor oil or diesel oil.  This was the first and last time I smelled oil, which was probably because my nose got used to the smell.  This also usually happens when I find sewage spill.  At first the smell is strong, but then I don't smell it anymore a few minutes later.  However, I did feel slightly sick during this investigative boat ride.

I did not see any dead wildlife.  However, I saw much less number of birds such as egrets and great blue herons.  I think they evacuated already.  There was a oil boom at the mouth of Kenilworth Marsh.  I saw a DC Fire Department boat and an EPA boat.  Many people are working hard to minimize the impact.

As I went downstream, I saw more oil on the water.  Approximately half of the surface was covered with a visible black oil, both thin and thick.  A quarter of the surface had a relatively thick oil.  

From around the Benning Road Bridge, the oil amount looked much less, then I changed my course and headed back to the Bladensburg Waterfront Park.  Tidal action must have washed the mouth of the Anacostia River.  The oil will likely eventually go to the Chesapeake Bay via the Potomac River.

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