Human error was the cause of a 5,000 gallon diesel fuel spill in the Ohio River right outside Cincinnati, OH, Monday.
There is, however, “excellent improvement” in water conditions Wednesday after cleanup crews recovered about 1,000 gallons of the 5,000 gallons of fuel that spilled into the river late Monday during a routine transfer at Duke Energy’s W.C. Beckjord Station in New Richmond, about 20 miles upstream of Cincinnati.
Recovery of the fuel might be complete by the end of the day, and shoreline cleanup will begin after that. Wildlife damage has been minimal, said officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Drinking water is safe, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said Tuesday after the diesel spill.
“Our drinking water is safe and will be safe,” Cranley said at a press conference, before taking a large gulp from a glass of water at his podium.
EPA and Coast Guard officials estimated about 5,000 gallons of the fuel spilled during
The spill occurred at 11:15 p.m. Monday, according to Duke Energy officials. Crews were able to stop the release by 11:30 p.m.
“The diesel fuel, which is a reddish color, appears to be along the Ohio side of the river in small pockets,” EPA On-Scene Coordinator Steven Renninger said. “The biggest pocket is several miles downstream.”
Tony Parrott, head of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, said the department learned of the spill just after midnight.
Parrott said crews shut down the Ohio River intakes quickly so the spill did not make it into the Water Works. He said the fuel reached Water Works at about 7 a.m.
Water Works leaders said reserves were near capacity when intakes were closed, meaning Water Works can operate this way for an extended period of time. Crews said they expect to keep intakes closed for as long as it takes for the spill to completely pass.
“Even if we hadn’t shut down the intakes, our treatment methods would clean the water and would be safe for drinking,” Cranley said. “However, out of an abundance of caution… we decided to close our intake valves until we are confident.”
Parrott said the agency does have the capacity to feed active carbon into the water supply if they must open the intakes before the spill passes.
The Clermont County Water Resources Department also implemented a contingency plan in response to the spill. Officials there said they shut down wells in the Pierce-Union-Batavia area with the most potential to have an issue.
Lyle Bloom, director of Utilities at the department, said the agency is operating only wells that have no potential for the spill to have an impact on them.
“This is a precautionary measure,” Bloom said. “We do not expect the well field to be impacted by the diesel spill. The diesel fuel will remain along the water surface and should not adversely impact the aquifer.”
Duke Energy spokesperson Sally Thelen said Duke is looking at this spill as a result of “human error” and not a mechanical failure.
“It wasn’t as if something failed,” Thelen said. “We had alarms that did sound that did notify us that we did have an issue with an overflow situation. The alarms worked.”
According to Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency (HCEMA) officials, the spill happened when an open valve caused a secondary containment unit to lose fuel.
The process of moving fuel from two large tanks to smaller tanks is an everyday process, Thelen said. The tanks and valves are land-based and above ground. She said the diesel spilled down a hill and into the riverbank for about 15 minutes before workers stopped it.
The plant, which is set to close down Jan. 1, 2015, has the capacity to put out 1,124 megawatts of power and has six coal/steam units. It began operating in June 1952.