1,300 Gallons of Tainted Oil
by Wendy Owen
An estimate of 75 gallons spilled behind The Dalles Dam also climbs,
to 600 gallons and counting
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said Tuesday they now think 1,300 gallons of PCB-tainted mineral oil leaked from a transformer at The Dalles Dam and flowed downstream in the Columbia River.
In addition, crews recovered 600 gallons that spilled behind the dam and expected to clean up more, said Joye Redfield-Wilder, a Washington State Department of Ecology spokeswoman.
The revised figure was a huge jump from the original estimate of 75 gallons that the corps first reported Thursday.
The Columbia Riverkeeper, a Hood River environmental group, had criticized the corps after spotting oily sheens on the water 23 miles downstream Friday, saying the agency "intentionally minimized the significance of the spill."
Corps spokesman Matt Rabe said the 75-gallon estimate came from dam crews and was based on what they saw in the water behind the dam. They were unaware that oil had flowed below the dam and into the river downstream, he said.
Cleanup downriver of the dam began two days after the spill and will continue into the weekend, Rabe said.
Some of the oil has passed Bonneville Dam, 45 miles downstream, Redfield-Wilder said. But most of the oil remains between The Dalles and Bonneville dams, where cleanup crews continue to concentrate their efforts.
The mineral oil spilled after cooling pipes connected to the transformer broke in freezing temperatures.
Although oil containing PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, has been banned for more than two decades, the mineral oil inside the dam's transformers became contaminated through contact with machinery predating the ban. PCBs can cause cancer and damage the immune and reproductive systems of humans and wildlife.
As of Tuesday, no dead birds had been found, and the count of dead fish remained at 186 shad. The fish were found last week in a pool of oil near the dam.
The oil leak is the latest in a series of dam-related spills. The corps, which operates dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, has been implicated in 35 oil spills of varying quantities during the past five years. Nearly half the spills have been reported at Bonneville Dam.
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