A decades old oil spill located at the Bonshaw bridge is being looked into by officials from the provincial environment department.
BONSHAW — An oil spill that happened nearly 30 years ago has re-emerged on the banks of the West River.
Greg Wilson, manager of environmental land management with the Department of Environment, said enforcement officers and technical staff went to the site earlier this month with the West River Watershed group.
“They were showing us these blobs of stuff coming out of the bank and in the river.”
An angler who sits on the board of directors for the West River watershed group contacted the group's co-ordinator, Megan Harris, and said he noticed some tar-like substance in the river. They called a conservation officer who took a sample.
After they had taken a sample, Harris took matters into her own hand and started to dig out as much of the ground as she could.
Harris said because she lived in the community she knew there had been a couple of bad accidents on the Bonshaw Bridge.
She figured it must have been from that or from the old shipyard that was located in the area.
After talking to the landowner close to the bridge, they came to a conclusion.
“Sheldon McNevin has lived there his whole life, he was quite sure that it was the one tanker trailer that went over the bridge in the late '70s,” said Harris.
The tanker was carrying bunker fuel.
McNevin told her that when the tanker crash happened, the area was covered with shale and left at that.
“He said he had been seeing the stuff coming out for the river for the last couple of summers but he didn’t know who to call or what to do,” she said.
The oil is located downstream from the bridge on the west side, said Harris.
Wilson said there is a wetland that has grown there over the last 30 years.
Wilson said the department has been running tests and supervising a mini cleanup since they found out about the spill.
“When we tested the blobs of stuff, it came positive for what they called a crude oil or weathered crude oil derivative, so it is some sort of crude oil.”
Harris described what the tar like blobs look like.
“When asphalt on a road gets really hot and it turns liquid, that black liquid is what it looks like. When it hits the water it solidifies again, it’s like a glob that’s coming down the side of a river bank, it looks like a glacier when it’s moving down a hill.”
Any time there is a petroleum product in the aquatic environment, it is a serious issue, said Wilson.
“The only positive spin on this is that it is a weather derivative so its toxicity is fairly low compared to other products. It’s still important that we need to deal with it but right now it’s not killing any aquatic creatures that we can see right away.”
Over the long term it is possible that it will affect the wildlife.
Harris has continued to go down to the river two or three times a week to remove as much as she can.
“It gets so dense that I just pull it up like taffy, I carry it up in a bucket and keep it until I feel I have enough to get it disposed of and Transportation has been disposing it for us.”
Now the province is bringing in a consultant to try and pinpoint the location exactly where it is and how big it might be.
“Other than hearsay, we don’t have a good handle on volumes or size yet.”
Harris said she expects events like this one will continue to come up because in years past, officials didn’t clean up, they covered up.
“I would like to see the department come up with some sort of protocol and come up with a plan for the site and what they are going to do.”