MSU profs help with Kalamazoo oil spill
A team of MSU researchers is helping with clean-up and research efforts following a recent leak in an oil pipeline that has affected two dozen miles of the Kalamazoo River.
The spill was caused when an oil pipeline broke July 26 and released more than 820,000 gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek, a tributary to the Kalamazoo River. It has affected 25 miles of the river between Marshall, Mich., and Battle Creek.
Although the group of MSU professors and experts made their way to the Kalamazoo River near the spill Monday, Stephen Hamilton, an MSU zoology professor, has been working in the area since the spill occurred.
“(Hamilton) has been at the (Kalamazoo) Extension for a while,” MSU Extension Director Tom Coon said. “So as soon as it happened, he was already there working in the area.”
Hamilton has studied the water quality of the waterway for more than 15 years and said initial clean-up efforts of the water by the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, have been successful.
But the problem lies in how high the water lies on the flood plain, Hamilton said.
“The oil was carried a lot higher than the water normally is,” he said. “It left a lot of oil in the flood plain and left a film across a very complex and fragile environment.”
Hamilton said the water will one day reach the levels of the film and bring oil back into the river, harming the river’s ecosystem once again.
The efforts started by Hamilton to research future impacts of the oil spill will be added to by experts from the departments of Fisheries and Wildlife, Geological Sciences and Zoology.
With the oil significantly contained and collected, most of the short-term damage has been done to wildlife. Fish have evaded most of the oil problems and limited oil effects to birds, mammals and turtles, Hamilton said. Long-term affects are more difficult to foresee, he said.
Ninety-one animals, including 30 turtles and various birds and mammals, have been rescued from the river.
The clean-up efforts of collecting the oil with containment devices and sifting it off the surface have been successful, said Lt. Paul Baker, director of the Kalamazoo County Office of Emergency Management.
After more than a week of clean up, Baker said more boom sites are continuously being added to the clean-up effort.
“It’s continually looking better, but we are still a long way from being out of the woods,” he said.