Source of July 29 South River spill still unknown
How the diesel fuel made its way into the river on July 29 is still a mystery.
“At this time, we are not able to determine the cause of the spill,” Lesa Osteen, the superintendent of the regulatory compliance division in the city public-works department, wrote in a July 30 report to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality regarding the incident.
A review of documents obtained through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request and subsequent interviews with city officials reveals that the source of the fuel remains unknown.
The spill was discovered at 3:57 p.m. the afternoon of July 29, according to an e-mail from Brenda Kennell, the environmental specialist at the local Invista plant, when an Invista employee “observed an oil sheen on the South River,” according to the e-mail, dated July 30. That afternoon saw a brief but strong thunderstorm pass through the city, causing localized flooding issues at some locations across the city.
Invista contacted the Waynesboro Fire Department regarding the oil sheen at 4:06 p.m., according to Kennell’s e-mail. The Invista investigation into the incident determined that the sheen was entering the river through an Invista stormwater outfall, “however, the source of the oil was not from Invista,” Kennell wrote in her e-mail.
The outfall in question, the e-mail relates, serves “a relatively inactive portion of the Waynesboro (Invista) site,” in additions to portions of residential neighborhoods on Delphine Avenue and an industrial neighbor, Mohawk Industries.
The inspection of storm drains, storage pads and stormwater pipes in the area offered “no evidence” of an oil spill in any of the inspected areas, according to the Kennell e-mail.
A memo filed by Nonna Good, the pollution response coordinator in the DEQ’s Harrisonburg office, indicated that she was on the scene of the spill by 5:45 p.m. the afternoon of July 29. “I did not observe any evidence of spills at any of the areas we covered at the Invista plant – no drums that were stored that could have spilled, no vehicles around that could have leaked, etc.,” Good wrote in her memo, dated July 30.
Osteen, in her July 30 report, wrote that she also inspected the residential neighborhood “looking for an overturned barrel, a home heating tank that may have dislodged or some sign or trace of the spill’s origin. I did not see anything out of order or anything that would lead me to the spill’s starting point,” Osteen wrote.
Osteen also inspected an automated Quarles filling station that she wrote in her report had just finished offloading when Invista personnel walked the property in the immediate aftermath of the rainstorm.
“However, when I went to the property, I did not see any trace of a fuel spill, no odor, no residue or sheen on puddles,” Osteen wrote.
RKM Enviroclean of Lexington was contracted for $6,500 to handle cleanup of the spill. Because the responsible party was unknown, the funds for the cleanup came from the Virginia Environmental Emergency Reponse Fund, according to the July 30 memo from Good.
The memo indicated that cleanup booms were to stay in place for “at least three rain events” to allow the affected stormwater pipe to wash out.
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Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.