Oil spills into Muddy River

June 27, 2008
By

DAVID TABER


Gazette Photo by John Swan
Environmental workers collect the 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of mineral oil that spilled into Leverett Pond last week following a leak in an NSTAR electrical line in Brighton. The mineral oil, shich is used as insulation, seeped into a water main and eventually into the pond. Wildlife rescue in the wake of the spill is being managed by Delaware-based Tri-state Bird Rescue and Research.

Geese and ducks hard-hit

PONDSIDE—A leak in an NSTAR-owned pipe housing underground electrical lines fed over 3,000 gallons of a non-toxic insulating mineral oil into Leverett Pond and the Muddy River near the Jamaica Plain/Brookline border June 19.

The leak—discovered early Thursday morning at the corner of Sutherland and Strathmore roads in Brighton—was exacerbated by another leak in a nearby water pipe, said Ed Coletta of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The water carried the oil as it bubbled up to the surface. Between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of oil flowed to a catch basin that leads to the pond, Coletta said.

The oil gave the water in the pond and river a blue-green sheen, he said.

“We don’t know the cause of the leaks or the sequence of events,” said NSTAR spokesperson Michael Durand.

By Friday, a system of nets and vacuum trucks had cleaned up about 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of oil from the pond and about an additional 1,000 gallons from the Muddy River, Coletta said.

Nets were set up in the Muddy River in time to keep oil from flowing into the Charles River, he said.

Tom French, Assistant Director at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that on Friday about 45 ducks and geese coated with the oil have been taken into captivity for cleaning. There have been three to five fatalities, he said.

The waterfowl use their feathers to float, maintain their body heat and protect their skin from the sun, he said. Even though the mineral oil is non-toxic, when it coats birds’ feathers they “lose their water repellent characteristics,” and are essentially rendered useless.

While it will take about a week for the birds to recover, it is likely “They will recover better than if it was a [toxic] petroleum-based oil” that spilled, he said. The birds will remain in captivity until they are clean.

While maintaining fowls’ body heat is usually a top priority after they have been coated with oil, sunburns have been one of the major problems with this spill, he said.

Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, a Delaware-based non-profit that is recognized as “the leading expert on oil spill bird cleanup on the East Coast” has been leading the rescue effort, French said.

The spill affected most of the flock in the Leverett Pond area, he said.

Fish and turtle populations appear to have been unaffected by the oil floating on top of the pond and river. There is a chance that a muskrat might have got coated, French said, but no oil-soaked mammals have been spotted.

NSTAR is footing the bill for both the wildlife rescue and the oil cleanup, which is being conducted by Clean Harbors.

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