Oil spills into Jones Falls, causes sheen on Inner Harbor water

Officials with the Maryland Department of the Environment say they have identified a BGE substation as the source of an oily substance that flowed down the Jones Falls, causing a sheen on the Inner Harbor waters.

In particular, a sump at the BGE substation near the outfall appears to have caused the spill, said MDE spokesman Jay Apperson. “We expect that BGE will take action to prevent the spill from continuing and to make any necessary repairs under MDE oversight,” he said.

In a statement Monday night, BGE spokesman Richard Yost confirmed that an underground electric transmission cable that uses mineral oil as a coolant is the likely source of the discharge. The line has been “de-energized” and will be inspected to identify the leak location. Yost added that BGE is “working closely with local and environmental authorities to ensure the leak is contained and full environmental remediation is complete.”

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that about 50 gallons of lube oil spilled from a stormwater outfall near the 2100 block of Falls Road.

A scientist with the nonprofit group Blue Water Baltimore noticed the substance at about 8:30 a.m. Friday while doing water quality testing in the Jones Falls near downtown, and reported it to city officials, said Alice Volpitta, the group’s lead water quality scientist.

Later in the day, Blue Water Baltimore officials working further upstream in the Jones Falls tracked the oil discharge to a stormwater pipe that empties into the stream off of Falls Road.

“You could see big blobs of oil coming out of the stormwater outfall,” Volpitta said.

Stormwater pipes are only supposed to carry rainwater.

“This is the only time I’ve ever seen something like this. I’ve never seen oil come out like this before,” Volpitta said.

The Coast Guard was called in to help with the cleanup, deploying a boom into the water to try to contain the oil and soak it up, said Petty Officer Andy Kendrick, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Baltimore.

Baltimore’s Department of Public Works is assisting MDE and the Coast Guard, said Jeffrey Raymond, a city spokesman. Raymond said the city’s teams are only equipped to identify sewage and drinking water leaks, not oil or other substances.

The oil sheen continued on through Monday, according to Blue Water Baltimore.

Angela Haren, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, said people should avoid contacting water in the Jones Falls and the Inner Harbor.

“This is a significant problem,” Haren said. “It could have really devastating impacts on wildlife and the health of our water.”

pwood@baltsun.com

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