HazMat tackles oil spill

WEATHERSFIELD – Crews worked late into the night Friday cleaning up an oil spill on the Mahoning River.

“I’ve been with the HazMat team for 15 years and this is the biggest spill I have seen,” said Jason DeLuca, interim chief of Trumbull County HazMat, about the spill that originated at a Warren Township coke plant.

DeLuca said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was setting up booms to trap the oil as far south as V&M Star in Youngstown. He wasn’t sure of the volume of oil involved but said it covered a wide area.

“They needed to get to a point that hadn’t been contaminated yet in order to stop the flow south,” DeLuca said. “That’s really why I say I haven’t seen one like this before. It isn’t so much the volume of oil, because we don’t know that yet, but how far and fast it has moved.”

The spill was reported to the Niles Fire Department about 1:30 p.m. by someone on the bike path. Fire Capt. Todd Thomas said he sent two men out on a four-wheeler to check the river, where they confirmed the presence of oil.

Thomas said they contacted the Trumbull County Emergency Management Agency and HazMat and traced the source upstream to the ArcelorMittal plant off Main Avenue in Warren Township. According to Weathersfield fire Chief Randy Pugh, a water-oil separator failed at the plant, allowing oil to flow into a nearby stream and the Mahoning River.

Calls to ArcelorMittal – which converts coal into coke for the steel-making industry – were not immediately returned Friday.

By about 2:30 p.m. Trumbull County HazMat set up camp where the river passes under West Park Avenue in Weathersfield, about two miles downstream from the plant. Crews from the Lordstown Fire Department and Mahoning County HazMat also were on the scene as workers used absorbent booms to gather the oil.

In addition to the booms, workers with cleanup company Shafer Industrial were vacuuming oil from where the separator failed.

“It’s a strong current, it’s carrying it like crazy,” DeLuca said.

By 5:30 p.m. Pugh said that the source had been stopped. However much of the oil that escaped was already a distance down the river.

“We’re working on each piece of the puzzle, little by little,” DeLuca said.

Niles residents Susan Wolfe and her sister, Wendy Emmer, noticed the spill about 5 p.m. while walking down the bike trail in Niles.

They were walking with their grandson and nephew along the river and said they stopped to look for turtles and other wildlife, but it wasn’t until they strolled by the river again later in the day that they noticed the slick sheen of oil flowing downstream.

“It wasn’t like that before,” Wolfe said. “I’m really shocked.”

Cleanup is expected to continue today.