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Coast Guard continues to search for source of oil in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; spill might be growing

‘Hundreds of gallons’ of heating oil spilled into Inner Harbor early Saturday, Baltimore fire department says.

U.S. Coast Guard crews are continuing to search for the source of an oil spill in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as photos from the scene Sunday appeared to show the spill possibly growing in size.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Isaac Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, said crews have still not located the source of an oil spill where the Jones Falls meets the Inner Harbor.

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The spill of red-dyed No. 2 fuel oil was first spotted Saturday morning near the Port Discovery Children’s Museum, where a U.S. Coast Guard contractor attempted to recover fuel at the site using a vacuum truck. Maryland environmental officials estimated about 50 gallons of oil were deposited into the harbor.

Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the department has “no indication this is an ongoing release.”

“We do not know the source. We have checked some storm drain systems but the Jones Falls outfall services a massive area, making it difficult to trace back for a potential source without a report of a spill,” Apperson wrote in an email.

He added that people should avoid contact with the water and that the vacuum truck is continuing to try to recover the fuel from the scene.

As of Sunday afternoon, the spill had yet to be contained, said Cross, who added that crews are still trying to locate the source of the original spill and make sure there is not a second source adding to the problem.

He said that while the maximum estimate for the spill would be 200 to 300 gallons of oil, he could not estimate how much had spilled into the water Sunday.

Alex Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore, said images from the scene might show there are two separate oil spills. She said some of the spill “is really globular” while, in other areas, the substances “is almost like gasoline.”

A cleanup crew from ACV Enviro retrieves oil-laden absorbent "sausage" booms from the Inner Harbor near Pier 6, which will get bagged and towed away. The U.S. Coast Guard, in partnership with the city and the Maryland Department of the Environment, has been working to clean up the mysterious oil spill since Saturday morning. They still have not determined the source of the contamination. Feb. 21, 2020
A cleanup crew from ACV Enviro retrieves oil-laden absorbent "sausage" booms from the Inner Harbor near Pier 6, which will get bagged and towed away. The U.S. Coast Guard, in partnership with the city and the Maryland Department of the Environment, has been working to clean up the mysterious oil spill since Saturday morning. They still have not determined the source of the contamination. Feb. 21, 2020(Amy Davis)

She said that while the city might have benefited from the cold weather — with there being no real threat of people wanting to wade in the water in winter — she speculated it could still affect people who live aboard boats docked nearby or fishermen.

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Volpitta, who is also a water quality scientist, added that Blue Water Baltimore, which is committed to cleaning up the city’s waterways, has been pushing for better signage at the Inner Harbor to warn visitors of potential pollutants in the water.

She said other waterways in the city have signs warning people of potential pollutants, something more likely in an urban area than a rural one. She added that the Inner Harbor is lacking appropriate signage, despite Blue Water Baltimore pushing for new signs for months.

“Pollution like this can happen at any time,” she said. “We’re lucky that it’s February.”

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