In January 1988, a four-million gallon oil storage tank owned by Ashland Oil Company, Inc., split apart and collapsed at an Ashland oil storage facility located in Floreffe, Pennsylvania, near the Monongahela River. The tank split while being filled to capacity for the first time after it had been dismantled and moved from an Ohio location and reassembled at the Floreffe facility. The split released diesel oil over the tank's containment dikes, across a parking lot on an adjacent property, and into an uncapped storm drain that emptied directly into the river. Within minutes the oil slick moved miles down river, washing over two dam locks and dispersing throughout the width and depth of the river. The oil was carried by the Monongahela River into the Ohio River, temporarily contaminating drinking water sources for an estimated one million people in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, contaminating river ecosystems, killing wildlife, damaging private property, and adversely affecting businesses in the area. Oil covers the ground and debris at the Ashland Oil Facility. Credit:NOAA OR&R
After local authorities executed the initial on-scene response during the night, EPA took control of the cleanup operations. EPA Region III was dispatched to the site immediately following the incident, and an EPA On-Scene Coordinator assumed the lead role in the spill response. The On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) was responsible for delegating tasks and responsibilities to the agency best qualified to perform them.
The Incident-Specific Regional Response Team (RRT) was formally activated two days after the incident. The RRT consisted of many environment and health-related agencies from both the federal level as well as the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, cooperating to provide advice and guidance to the OSC regarding the political and legal issues surrounding the incident.
Contractors employed by Ashland performed the actual cleanup duties. The contractors used booms, vacuum trucks, and other equipment to retrieve the spilled oil, recovering about 20 percent of the oil that flowed into the river.
EPA, in cooperation with other agencies, monitored the cleanup process and river conditions. Personnel set up a river monitoring system to track the spill, as well as a sampling and analysis process to protect water supplies. The Agency also performed follow-up activities such as compliance inspections and a Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plan inspection.
Several important lessons were learned from this spill response. It was concluded that a more rapid establishment of a central command post would have enhanced response coordination. In addition, the delay of RRT activation until two days after the incident may have decreased opportunities to provide assistance to the responding agencies. Communication problems and lack of available containment and monitoring equipment also hindered response efforts. Evaluators of the response recommended that inventories of locally available equipment be prepared to assist emergency responders in quickly locating needed equipment. It was also recommended that to protect public water sources in future emergencies, water suppliers should plan for the availability of contingency water supplies and equipment.
In September 1988, Ashland Oil Company was indicted by a federal grand jury for negligently discharging oil into the Monongahela River in violation of section 311(b)(3) of the Clean Water Act. Containment booms on the shoreline of the Monongahela River near the Ashland Oil Facility. Credit:NOAA OR&R