Monday, August 16, 2010

Fuel Spill in the Don

Map of fuel tank location and nearby stormwater outlet on Don River

On Sunday a fuel spill occurred that emptied into the Don River. What happened was that a construction crew excavating behind a Staples depot on Vanderhoof Avenue uncovered a large fuel tank buried in the ground. No one knew it existed but local historians suspect that it was a leftover relic from the days when the site was used as an airfield. The Leaside Aerodrome closed in the 1930s but they left the tank buried in the ground, forgotten until now.

In the process of digging up the tank it was ruptured and the contents exposed to the air. It was scheduled to be pumped out on Monday but a torrential downpour on Sunday caused the fuel to flow out of the tank. The fuel emptied into a nearby sewer which quickly led to a storm sewer outlet on the Don River. Fortunately a passerby noticed the problem and the spill was quickly contained. Today as I was passing by I saw the cleanup efforts well underway.

Many people assume that the Don is polluted and they are right. It used to be that the problems came from industrial sources like this but those days are long gone and spills are few and far between. Most of the pollution comes from stormwater runoff. Whenever there is a big rainfall (like this weekend), the rain is quickly diverted into storm sewers which empty directly into the river. The rain picks up detritus from our roads and lawns. In addition, in the Lower Don sanitary sewage mixes with storm water and the combined effluent adds to the rainwater runoff.

If there is any benefit to this fuel spill it is that it highlights the connection between the sewer grate on your street and pollution in the Don River. Think about that next time you want to soap down your car in the driveway. Now you know where that soapy water will end up!

Backhoe lifting derelict fuel tank

Workers in Don River putting a boom in place to contain the spill

Closeup of the stormwater outlet. You can see some of the oily slick on top of the water.

Tanker trucks being used to vacuum up the oil