Emergency response crews placed a boom on the Columbia River near Wenatchee early Sunday morning to contain an oil sheen that is mysteriously getting into the river. Crews have been investigating since Friday and are unable locate the source of the petroleum-like substance.
The oil sheen was first spotted on the river Friday evening and a diesel odor was reported in the area between Thurston and Chehalis Streets in Wenatchee. First responders included Chelan County Emergency Management, Chelan County Fire District 1, Chelan Pubic Utilities, City of Wenatchee, Washington Department of Ecology, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is supporting resources for investigation and clean up.
Efforts to determine where the sheen was coming from included inspections of a nearby fuel distributor, a BNSF rail-car switch station, a rigorous search through manholes and drain pipes, and an underwater camera. None of these efforts revealed the source. Ecology spill responders collected samples of the sheen for testing in hopes it will help identify the source.
Crews also conducted a day-long assessment of shoreline impacts Saturday. Help from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was enlisted to determine if any fish, birds, or other wildlife were affected by the sheen. Ducks, geese, a river otter, and a marmot were seen and none appeared to be coated by the sheen.
“We want to contain and recover as much of the substance as we can,” said Jay Carmony, on-site Ecology spill response lead. “Diesel fuel and similar products can be difficult to recover because they are light and evaporate quickly.”
Carmony said that the fast-moving river and high winds have been presenting safety issues for response crews but that efforts will continue and new strategies are being considered to find the source of the sheen.