Mississippi River cleanup has temporary setback
The U.S. Coast Guard shut down movement for six hours on a two-mile stretch of the Mississippi River near New Orleans after a sunken barge shifted and released more oil on Wednesday.
River traffic had just begun to return to normal following last week’s accident between a chemical tank vessel and a barge that led to the discharge of thousands of gallons of industrial oil. Crews were in the process of securing the barge’s forward tank to a bridge pylon when the secondary release of oil occurred Wednesday morning. Similar releases are likely until workers can completely secure the tank. Once that is completed they will pump oil out of the bow and rear tanks before a salvage team pulls the barge out of the river.
The wreck split the fuel barge in the middle tank.
Divers have found the stern tank, which is lying along the bottom, is apparently still full, meaning the spill could be one-third less than the original worst-case estimate of 419,000 gallons, according to the Associated Press.
Cleanup crews have retrieved more than 105,000 gallons of oil-water mix so far, the Coast Guard said. More than 2,000 responders are working on the cleanup effort and 103 vessels have had their hulls decontaminated and been released.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stopped dredging the Southwest Pass entrance to the Mississippi River after oil was discovered in the sediment being recovered from the ocean floor, the Associated Press reported. Regular dredging is necessary to maintain water depths for vessel traffic, but could be stalled until a safe place is found to put the contaminated dredge spoils.
Officials had expected the oil to float on top of the water, but the heavy bunker oil instead is attaching to sediment in the water and sinking to the bottom. The sediment was being pumped to restore wetlands near the Delta National Wildlife Reserve.
Environmentalists are worried that not all the oil will be recovered, which could work it’s way up the food chain to the seafood eaten by humans, the AP said.