An environmental group believes at least hundreds of gallons of chemical compounds made their way into the Niagara River near Ontario Street following a spill into a creek and sewer overflow earlier this week.
Julie Barrett O'Neill, executive director of Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers, said there was a delay of nearly five hours between when the spill first came to the attention of authorities late Tuesday afternoon and when barriers were placed to block its flow into the river.
As a result, she said, "We think that some good portion (of the chemical compounds) probably did make it into the river."
The Coast Guard, which is conducting the investigation into the spill, disputed O'Neill's timeline.
Cmdr. Kevin Burke said the barriers were in place "within two hours" of the initial response. He said cleanup crews recovered "about 20 or 30 gallons" of the solvent xylene.
"We have samples and we're going through trying to see what shops or places in the area may have had the same type of stuff," Burke said.
Finding that source may prove difficult because xylene, used in a number of processes and products, is one of the top 30 chemicals produced in the country in terms of volume.
The spill occurred in a channel that is fed by a sewer overflow and Cornelius Creek, an underground stream.
Since the chemicals may remain in the overflow and creek and be flushed into the channel during the next heavy rain, Burke said the containment barriers would remain in place for at least the next several days.
O'Neill asked those who frequent the area to use caution when near the water and to provide investigators with any information they might have about the source of the spill.
"It shows a total disregard for our entire community for someone to do this," she said. "The more we have the community involved, the more (violators) will expect to be found and prosecuted."