The U.S. Coast Guard says more than 5,300 gallons – or about 20,000 litres – of oil spilled Thursday in Sault Ste. Marie.
Ontario’s Ministry of Environment said earlier in the day most of the oil spilled at Algoma Steel fell on the ground, but some also entered the city’s wastewater system.
The U.S. Coast Guard said in a news release it was notified at 10:30 a.m. of a “5,300-gallon gear oil spill into the St. Marys River.
“Initial Coast Guard estimates show a sheen that covers an area from the steel mill all the way to the north side of Sugar Island,” the release said.
“No injuries or deaths have been reported by Algoma Steel. The Coast Guard is requesting all traffic to stay clear of the impacted area.”
The Coast Guard said it has established an incident command team to manage the U.S. response efforts.
“We’re working in lockstep with our Canadian, American, and tribal partners to ensure the sanctity of our river,” Capt. Anthony Jones, said in the release.
In a statement, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment said the substance that spilled into the water was ‘Morgoil,’ a heavy oil used for lubrication of heavy machinery.
MOE is on site heading up cleanup efforts, the statement said, which are in the early stages.
“Most of the oil was spilled to ground,” ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler said in a statement.
“Some of the oil entered the wastewater treatment plant where it was then discharged to the river.”
Algoma Steel has hired cleanup contractors that have deployed absorbent booms on the river to contain the spill, Wheeler said.
“Algoma Steel is using vacuum trucks to remove oil from inside the wastewater treatment plant,” he added.
“We will continue to stay on top of this issue.”
The spill prompted a drinking water advisory from Algoma Public Health.
Not affected is the municipal water supply from the City of Sault Ste. Marie.
“There is no concern relating to this system at this time,” the health unit said in a news release.
“Please be advised that if your drinking water intake is located in the St. Marys River downstream (east) of Algoma Steel Inc. and Great Lakes Power and/or you have a dug a well close to the shoreline, there may be risk of contamination resulting from this spill.”
The river also shouldn’t be used for recreation (swimming, fishing, etc.) Pets and livestock should also not drink from St. Marys.
“Do not drink, swim, bathe, or shower with this water,” the health unit said.
“Use alternative water sources such as bottled water or from the municipal drinking water system.”
Earlier in the day, Algoma Steel confirmed the oil spill took place on company property that leaked into the St. Marys River.
“A quantity of oil left our site early this morning and entered the adjacent waterway. The source of the spill has been safely contained,” said Brenda Stenta, manager of communications and branding for the steel company.
“The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, the Spills Action Centre, the Canadian Coast Guard, and the City of Sault Ste. Marie have been notified … We are currently coordinating with officials, deploying equipment, resources, and personnel to mitigate any possible impact to the environment.”
Late Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard said the waterway has reopened to commercial traffic.
— With contributions from Mike McDonald