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Department of Ecology News Release - August 17, 2009
BELLINGHAM – The Department of Ecology (Ecology) has fined Olmsted Transportation Co. Inc. (Olmsted) of Mount Vernon $14,500 for an incident last year in which an unreported diesel oil spill covered more than nine miles of Maddox Creek and Big Ditch between Mount Vernon and Skagit Bay.
Maddox Creek and Big Ditch are salmon-bearing streams. Petroleum products such as diesel fuel are toxic to fish and other aquatic and marine life, and add to the load of toxic chemicals entering Puget Sound.
State and local emergency responders spent March 12 and 13, 2008, seeking the source and extent of the spill, after receiving reports of oil in the creek. An Ecology investigator traced the source to the Truck City Truck Stop at 3228 Old Highway 99 South, Mount Vernon, late in the evening of the 12th. By the next day, investigators had found oil on the water’s surface all the way to its mouth north of Stanwood.
The spill occurred around 4 a.m. on March 11, 2008. An Olmsted driver had begun to fill the fuel tanks on both sides of his truck at the same time. The driver entered the cab to fill out paperwork and did not hear when a fuel nozzle slipped out of one of the tanks and did not shut off. He noticed the problem when he left the cab after hearing the nozzle in the other tank shut off automatically when that tank was full.
Fuel drained across the pavement to a storm drain grate, filled a catch basin and flowed into a tributary to Maddox Creek, which flows to Big Ditch. Ecology later estimated that 84 gallons of diesel fuel entered the creek.
A truck stop attendant cleaned oil from the pavement. The release to the creek went un-noticed until it was discovered by Skagit County and City of Mount Vernon employees on March 12. Olmsted did not report the spill, which is required of the spilling party under state and federal law. Company management cooperated with the cleanup and response – and hired a spill-response contractor – upon being contacted by Ecology.
Olmsted dismissed the driver for not following company policy.
“Obviously, paying attention when you fuel your vehicle is the first line of defense,” said David Byers, who oversees Ecology’s statewide spill response activities. “Beyond that, time is critical when oil is spilled. The law requires the spiller to promptly report a spill. There was no reason to allow oil to run all the way down this creek.”
Ecology works with local emergency-response agencies to follow up on spill reports. They can determine whether the spilled material threatens public health, nearby surface waters or other environmental resources, and set the response and cleanup in motion.
With the creek already oiled, the contractor spent several days along the entire length of the spill working with pads and long strips made of oil-absorbing materials. While some cleanup was possible where oil accumulated in pockets along the banks, most of the oil likely dissipated into Maddox Creek and Skagit Bay or was dispersed due to rains, and some of it evaporated.
Olmstead may seek review of the penalty by Ecology or file an appeal with the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days.
Ecology’s spill programs are part of the department’s efforts to reduce and prevent toxic threats and to meet the statewide goal to restore and protect Puget Sound by 2020.
Larry Altose, Ecology media relations, 425-649-7009
David Byers, Ecology spill response supervisor, 360-407-6974
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