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Diesel fuel spills into Lake Merritt from storm drain

on June 28, 2011

A cleanup crew worked to clean up diesel fuel that spilled into Lake Merritt from a storm drain on Tuesday evening.

A crew begins to work on cleaning up the spill Tuesday night.

Fuel could be seen on the water’s surface in the area by the storm drain located near the corner of Harrison Street and Grand Avenue, across from Children’s Fairyland. About four to five acres were originally contaminated, Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Darin White said, but firefighters were able to pare down the contaminated area to two acres using an oil boom.

Because the storm drain connects to other storm drains in the city, and due to the heavy rain, White said firefighters were having difficulty finding where the spill originated.  White could not confirm how much fuel spilled into the lake, but said the fuel could be seen “several hundred yards” from the storm drain and appears to be more than what typically washes off the streets after a storm. “It’s more diesel fuel than we’d consider from a runoff,” he said.

Richard Bailey, director of the non-profit Lake Merritt Institute, agreed it was more than typical runoff. He said he was told by the fire department that a maximum 25 gallons spilled. “This only happens once in several years,” he said.

The long-range damage is difficult to peg now, Bailey said. Small bits of oil that are stuck to the storm drain pipe will continue to come out of the drain. He said there were no birds in the area, and most of the damage would be to small marine life like mussels and clams.

Bailey said the spill was an important reminder that what goes into a storm drain can end up in public water. “Seven square miles drain into the lake,” he said, “so we’re kind of a hot spot for anything that happens in that area.”

The initial cleanup was expected to be completed by Tuesday evening.


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