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6,000 gallons of oil sludge spills into river from Caterpillar plant in Joliet, Illinois

The local paper in Joliet has the most complete report (besting the grownups at the Chicago Tribune, no less) on Sunday’s spill, which happened when an open-air storage tank for used oil overflowed because of a pump malfunction. The oil sludge spill contaminated three miles of the Des Plaines river.

How much damage the spill could potentially create is unknown.

The first step in such a spill is to contain it, said John Lesnak, environmental protection specialist in surface water section at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Trying to contain the sludge is just what the Coast Guard was doing, with help from the Channahon and Rockdale Fire Departments, Joliet police Lt. Jeff Allbert said. They are surrounding the contaminated water with a floating wall, Mitchell said.

That wall, also called a boom, is a floating absorbent ring that floats on the water.

“If (the contaminant is) floating, they just corral it with these booms, these floating rings, and then they go in with a sweeper and they just slurp it up,” Lesnak said. “The idea is they contain it with the booms so it doesn’t spread and then they clean it up.”

That was the plan, according to Mitchell, who said after the booms collect the spill, two vacuum trucks on the scene would suck up the sludge.

While officials said there was not harm to humans nor any evidence of fish or waterfowl harm, Mitchell did point out that if there was an animals within the three-mile radius, it could be in trouble.

For those who’ve never worked in a factory or machine shop: oil lubricates cutting surfaces and various manufacturing processes. Basically you pour oil over something to keep drill bits and other cutting things from overheating (also, reducing friction keeps cutting tools sharper longer). The oil then flows down into a catch-basin of some sort and gets recycled.

Presumably this left-over oil is what was stored in the tank that overflowed.

I read somewhere that 6,000 gallons is about how much a tanker truck carries.

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Tom Mangan posted at 7:13 am February 9th, 2009 |

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