Cleanup continues on Flat Branch Creek after mineral oil leaked into the waterway Sunday afternoon. The leak likely came from an overheated transformer at the MU Power Plant.
“The transformer failed and caused mineral oil to leak and enter the storm sewer,” said Phil Shocklee, associate director of campus facilities. “The storm sewer then drains into Flat Branch.”
The transformer held 50 gallons to 70 gallons of mineral oil, but Shocklee said it was likely only 10 percent of that “actually reached the creek.”
The initial discovery of the leak was made by Cecilia Campbell, an environmental specialist with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, who was able to seen the oil on the surface of the water as she walked the MKT Trail. She placed a call to the DNR’s Emergency Response Spill Line at 5:34 p.m. Sunday.
The Columbia Fire Department responded and began deploying booms downstream, which absorb oil off the surface of the water. The MU Environmental Health and Safety Department was notified of the leak at 7 p.m. Sunday, and MU power plant staff and the Department of Natural Resources were also present for the cleanup.
The absorbent booms and pads were placed in at least eight places along Flat Branch Creek in order to contain the flow of the oil. They were also replaced Monday morning as cleanup efforts continued.
Shocklee said that because the oil was mineral based and did not travel very far, he did not expect any environmental repercussions. Brad Harris, the Spill Line Duty Officer who fielded Campbell’s call, said that although there has been no distressed or dead aquatic life reported, there is a possibility that the oil could affect the area.
“It has the potential to smother creatures by covering their gills just like any other oil,” Harris said.
Harris also said that the booms and pads would be in place on Flat Branch Creek “for a few days” in order to ensure that any residual oil is recovered.