This story was updated Jan. 9, 2018, at 11:53 p.m. with more information.
Fuel spills into Citico Creek running into Tennessee RiverView 10 Photos
More than 1,000 gallons of fuel spilled from Norfolk Southern Railway's deButts Yard into Citico Creek on Monday evening, with a portion of the petroleum pouring into the Tennessee River, according to city and state officials.
The railroad company took responsibility for the spill and is working to minimize its impact, according to a news release from Chattanooga Fire Department spokesman Bruce Garner. In a statement to the Times Free Press, Norfolk Southern wrote that it had reason to believe the oil may have come from a Norfolk Southern property, but the company is still investigating the cause and source of the release.
"Right now, it is a cleanup operation on our end to make sure the site is contained as much as possible," Garner said.
The leak is no longer active, according to Garner and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Kim Schofinski. The cleanup is expected to take several days.
Containment booms — used to keep the water contained — were deployed Monday night by emergency responders and are being used to keep creek water from flowing into the river. There are also pumps being used to pull the substance from the creek.
Responders do not know how much of the fuel spilled into the Tennessee River, but Garner said the spill "is a lot more than we want in our creeks and rivers."
"The challenge is being able to take a spill like this, in excess of 1,000 gallons, and try to contain it as much as possible," Garner said. "The Tennessee River is a water source for the city of Chattanooga. We're mindful of that, as well. We're making every effort to make sure as much of it is contained and cleaned up as possible."
One of the intakes for the city's drinking water system is on the downstream side of the confluence of Citico Creek and the Tennessee River, according to maps released in 2000 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Tennessee Valley Authority.
However, Garner and Tennessee American Water spokeswoman Daphne Kirksey do not see that as being an issue.
"If there's any silver lining to a petroleum product being released, it is that it tends to want to float and stay up high, which is pretty far away from the intakes," Garner said.
Kirksey said she is unaware of intake locations because of Homeland Security regulations put in place, but said water company officials "feel confident there is no threat to the drinking water supply." She also said there are multiple intakes that can be turned on and off.
The water is monitored and sampled at the plant at all times, she said, and there have been no signs of contaminated water entering the city's water system. Tennessee American Water is working with TDEC to monitor the spill.
Schofinski confirmed Tennessee American Water is using the intake farthest from the spill and providing additional treatment as a precaution.
"There has not been an impact to drinking water quality. We are working with EPA and local officials and will keep the community updated," Schofinski wrote in an email to the Times Free Press.
Local emergency responders, the Environmental Protection Agency, TDEC and environmental cleanup company Hepaco were working to clean and investigate the area, Garner said. The Coast Guard also had incident responders on scene.
Ultimately, much of the cleanup will be the responsibility of the railroad company.
"Whoever spills it has to clean it up," Tennessee Emergency Management Agency public information officer Dean Flener said.