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Floodwaters Carry Away Oil, Other Pollutants

July 16, 1993

NIOTA, Ill. (AP) _ Oil spilled into the Mississippi River’s murky floodwaters has coated houses, swing sets and gardens all over Niota with a greasy slime. Environmental officials can only wonder what else is in the soup.

Most hazardous substances have been kept out of the floodwaters so far. But sewage spilling from inundated treatment systems, and pesticides and other agricultural chemicals flushed by weeks of rain have fouled the water.

Oil from an Amoco pumping station in Niota oozed into the Mississippi River town when a levee gave way Saturday. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 5 to 20 barrels, or as much as 840 gallons, spilled.

″It’s a mess. The homes, they’ve got as much oil inside them as out,″ said one resident, Lester Eaves. ″We can’t throw it in the river, and give our problem to somebody else.″

Amoco brought in containment crews Sunday, ″as soon as we could get back in here,″ and was working to minimize damage, spokesman Howard Miller said.

Environmental officials said Niota’s pollution appears to be the exception so far. But they warned that more problems may surface as waters recede and agencies check more dumps and other sites where chemicals were stored.

Liquid propane tanks have been spotted bobbing in the surging Mississippi, along with some gasoline tanks apparently swept away from farms, said Jose Cisneros of federal EPA. Officials closely monitored industrial sites in St. Paul, Minn., and Des Moines, Iowa, but said they were not flooded.

″We had people around the clock watching,″ said Dave Plante of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The agency asked companies that own several large tanks containing toxic materials to fill them to increase their weight and reduce their chances of floating away and breaking open.

Also spared were two EPA Superfund cleanup sites near the Mississippi at Savannah, Ill., and East Cape Girardeau, Ill., said Brad Benning at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster field office in Moline, Ill.

In Niota, Amoco said the oil was residue that was flushed out of a pipeline facilty by the floodwaters. But Miller said many other petroleum products in the water came from lawnmowers, cars, even the creosote on railroad ties.

Amoco promised Niota residents to provide high-pressure cleaning equipment for houses and belongings, but many said they were unsatisfied. About 80 homes were coated with oil.

″That oil’s adding insult to injury,″ Lynn Farr said as he steered a skiff down streets covered by as much as 15 feet of water.

Though the water had fallen about a foot, its high mark remained visible everywhere in a brownish line along houses, highway signs, even the leaves of trees.

″What we’re more concerned with now is what they (Amoco officials) are going to do if we have problems in the future,″ Farr said.

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