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DEC investigating 500-gallon oil spill in Cayuga Creek

NIAGARA FALLS – A large oil spill, about 500 gallons of which is believed to be waste oil, was contained in Cayuga Creek by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation Tuesday, but it still may take several weeks to clean up.

Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers, said it looks like someone deliberately dumped the waste oil into a stormwater drain sometime between Sunday and Monday.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which said it will investigate the spill to find the responsible party, found waste oil in the creek along Niagara Falls Boulevard near Tuscarora Road and in a 70-inch stormwater pipe along Niagara Falls Boulevard.

“(The DEC) saw that the stormwater pipe was completely coated with oil,” Jedlicka said. “It just makes it appear that it was a deliberate act to dump the waste oil into a storm drain. Whether that person knew that the storm drain led to the creek is another matter.”

An anonymous citizen notified the Buffalo news agency Investigative Post, which led to an alert of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers in order to determine what was in the water. According to a statement from the DEC, it was a kayaker who first noticed the oil in the water.

Jedlicka said they knew right away there was a problem.

“It’s tough in Cayuga Creek,” she said. “Sometimes, there is a naturally occurring iron oxide bacteria, which has that rust color, but because of the volume and the way the product occurred over the stretch of that creek, we knew it was more than just a naturally occurring phenomenon.”

The DEC Spill Hotline was called and immediately responded Monday.

The DEC told the Buffalo News Wednesday that the material has been contained and will be cleaned up over the next few days. The department said there should be no long-term water quality impacts.

The DEC rapid response team has been at the scene using booms and large vacuums to contain and remove the oil from the surface of the water, but Jedlicka said the cleanup may take longer if the shoreline is affected.

“Even one liter of oil can contaminate almost a million gallons of water because the oil floats,” she said. “That’s what makes it so insidious.”

Despite being contained, the oil sheen was seen about one-eighth of a mile downstream.

“There’s no doubt this is going to have a short-term impact upon the vegetation along the creek banks and any wildlife that may have come into contact with it,” Jedlicka said.

She said because Cayuga Creek is a navigable waterway, the U.S. Coast Guard has also responded.

Jedlicka said the DEC is going to be testing the product to determine what it is and attempt to determine where it came from and will continue to monitor this stretch of the creek for some time in the future.

Because it is such a large storm drain, the product found in the creek may have come from a site far away from the creek, and several business are in that area.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said Wednesday that the city is working with the Niagara Falls Water Board, the DEC and city code enforcement officers, trying to determine the source of the oil. He said there was a concern that this could be a continuing issue and said they plan to remain vigilant.

“Our immediate concern was whether we need to notify landowners along the shoreline that they should be prepared for this slug of waste oil to come down the creek, but it appears that it has been contained,” said Dyster.

Anyone who saw anything suspicious may contact the DEC spill hotline at 800-457-7362 or Riverkeepers at 852-7483.

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