Oil spill from deButts Yard retention pond could have significant impact on ecosystem, Tennessee Aquarium biologist says
Cleanup of a spill that dumped more than a thousand gallons of oil into Citico Creek is complete, according to Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay, but a county commissioner is demanding the company do more.
"Norfolk Southern should be forced to drain the retention pond and remediate the site before we suffer a tragic accident involving the release of thousands of gallons of petroleum contaminated water into Citico Creek," Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd wrote in an email to the Times Free Press.
The retention pond at Norfolk Southern's deButts Yard was the source of the spill, and despite the cleanup, questions remain.
The company alleges it does not know how the oil ended up in the creek from the pond. The retention pond primarily contains water, Terpay said, but the spill left a visible and toxic trail of oil in the creek and down the Tennessee River for miles. Groups investigating the cause on behalf of the company are still trying to determine how the oil got from the pond to the creek.
"I don't know [how it ended up in the creek]," Terpay said. "I don't know that. I think they're still looking at how that happened."
The company hired environmental cleanup group Hepaco to help remove the oil from the creek and river and had more than 120 contractors and environmental specialists come to the site to collect and remove the oil from the water, Terpay said. Local emergency responders, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and other agencies responded to the incident. The Environmental Protection Agency sent someone to the site to support the investigation at the request of TDEC.
The two agencies continue to investigate.
"TDEC and EPA's investigation of the discharge is ongoing," TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski wrote in an email. "We cannot speculate on potential enforcement actions at this time."
A company public relations person assured Boyd that Norfolk Southern is meeting all federal and state regulations, he said, but he doesn't think that is enough. He would like the company to improve its system, possibly putting the oil and water runoff in an underground tank.
Boyd spent 10 years in the industry, running an engineering consulting firm with his wife. He helped companies meet minimum requirements, he said, and even served as an expert witness for a contaminated soil case in Michigan.
"The worst people to represent what is happening at a spill are representatives of the government and consultants hired to investigate," Boyd said. "I've been there. I've dealt with that
"The feds and the state, if it dealt with one of their sites, they would lie to the public. You talk about Pentagon Papers, jeez, it's the same thing. That's why I don't have a lot of confidence. If I hadn't worked in the industry as much and as deep as I did, I would believe everything. I don't trust anything they say."
As far as Boyd's suggestion of remediating the site, the company does not feel it is necessary, Terpay said.
She said the section of the retention pond closest to the creek is already empty, and there is no need to drain the operating section.
The retention pond is located directly next to the creek between rail lines.