South Carolina

Hospital says oil leak contained, not harmful to environment

Booms are in place to contain oil found in the water behind Beaufort Memorial Hospital. The leak is believed related to the leak of hundreds of gallons of heating fuel oil into the hospital’s boiler room May 23.
Booms are in place to contain oil found in the water behind Beaufort Memorial Hospital. The leak is believed related to the leak of hundreds of gallons of heating fuel oil into the hospital’s boiler room May 23. Submitted

Beaufort Memorial Hospital says an oil leak that reached the river Sunday has been contained, isn’t harmful to the environment and is not related to oil found at the same time in Factory Creek and on boats in Lady’s Island Marina.

An estimated 290 gallons of heating oil leaked into the hospital’s boiler room on the bottom level May 23. The leak was believed contained and cleaned up by the next day.

After heavy rains Saturday night and Sunday morning, oil was found in the water near the back of the hospital by a nearby homeowner at about 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The oil is believed to have settled in a drain and was flushed into the river by the rain, the hospital said in a post to its website.

The hospital says it doesn’t know how much oil reached the water but that it is believed to be a small amount.

The S.C. Department of Environmental Control, Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard were told of the leak, hospital spokeswoman Courtney McDermott said.

A DHEC inspector and a site manager for the hospital’s hazardous materials contractor told the hospital that oil found Sunday in Factory Creek and throughout Lady’s Island Marina is unrelated to the hospital’s leak, McDermott said Tuesday. On its website, the hospital said the affected area is limited to several hundred feet along the shoreline near the hospital and that no private property is believed damaged.

A DHEC spokesman could not say Tuesday where the oil in Factory Creek might have originated. Attempts to reach a Coast Guard representative were unsuccessful.

Boat owners in the Lady’s Island Marina and marina manager Steve Stanforth are hoping for answers after a thick, black substance was found in the water and staining hulls in the marina Sunday morning. Stanforth said he began receiving calls early Sunday morning of oil in the water.

“We went around and looked at boats we thought might be a problem and realized it was way more oil than coming out of a boat,” said Stanforth, who said the oil in the water was the most he had seen in 35 years working for marinas.

Don Thomas said his 65-foot Viking docked at the marina is stained pitch-black a foot above the water line and will require mineral spirits and hours to clean.

“Like liquid tar and black as India ink,” Thomas said in an email Monday. He took samples from the water.

Nancy Bartlett, who lives on a sailboat adjacent to Thomas, held a water bottle full of black liquid Tuesday taken from the water beside her boat. Her fingers became covered in the black goo. She pointed out what appeared to be a mud crab working its way through the oil-soaked reeds.

Nearby boat-owner Bob Okonski was trying to scrub his hull with a citrus-based cleaner but said the substance on his boat was still leaving deep stains.

Richard Clough was just returning into town, walking down the dock with his dog on a leash when he noticed the substance on his 30-foot Hunter sailboat.

“Look at my boat; Oh my God,” he said.

McDermott referred further questions about the oil Factory Creek to the Coast Guard.

Rick Griffin, manager of Beaufort Downtown Marina, said no oil had been reported at his facility.

U.S. Waste Industries, the hospital’s contractor, said the heating oil is classified as non-hazardous, McDermott said.

The company placed a 1,000-foot boom along the shoreline to soak up the oil, the hospital’s statement said. The boom will be in place 30 days and monitored for saturation.

Drain pipes are being cleaned and a filter will be installed to keep fuel from coming through the pipe in the future, the hospital’s statement said.

DHEC will monitor the cleanup effort to ensure regulations are followed, agency spokesman Jim Beasley said. He referred questions about the amount of oil in the water to the hospital.

Steve Arnott, a Department of Natural Resources marine scientist based in Charleston, said his understanding is that heating oil is relatively light and, while toxic to anything in direct contact, much of the oil should evaporate from the water’s surface within days. The fast-moving tides should also help flush the toxicity, he said.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration categorizes No. 2 fuel oil as a light oil that could leave residue after a few days but is relatively easy to clean up.

Oil spills must be reported if they violate water-quality rules, cause a film or “sheen” on the water or create sludge beneath the water, according to the EPA. The hospital correctly reported its spill to agency’s National Response Center on May 29, EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young said.

Stephen Fastenau: 843-706-8182, @IPBG_Stephen

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