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At a. The leak wasn't discovered until a. Oil was pouring into Talmadge Creek, about three-quarters of a mile from the pump station, he said. A company spokesman said he couldn't answer that question, or any other question about the chronology of events, while the NTSB's investigation is ongoing. Enbridge first tried to contact the NRC just after 1 p. The company had already alerted its own public affairs office in Houston about the spill 15 minutes earlier.

Because the NRC line was busy, Enbridge didn't get through until p. The company reported a spill of , gallons of oil.

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Three minutes after Enbridge finished talking with the NRC, the center had contacted 16 agencies. By this time, the same oily muck that had darkened the LaForges carefully tended lawn was sloshing over the banks of Talmadge Creek and coating tree trunks, flowers and soil along the Kalamazoo River. Jay Wesley, a fisheries specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, was already on the scene, trudging along the floodplain and collecting oil-coated muskrats and turtles in cardboard boxes and plastic bins. Deb Miller was driving home from her event-planning job in Battle Creek that evening when she saw several hundred people clustered on 12 Mile Road bridge.


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The bridge across the Kalamazoo River is in the village of Ceresco, about five river miles west of John LaForge's home. It offers a dead-on view of the Ceresco Dam, a local landmark.

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Miller and her husband, Ken, had raised their two daughters in Ken's childhood home, which sits just feet below the dam. They had built a deck off the back of their nearby flooring and carpeting business so they could enjoy watching fish swimming just under the river's surface. The crowd parted so Miller could inch her car across the bridge and turn into her driveway. An overpowering odor of boiling hot asphalt assaulted her nostrils before she even opened the car door.

Miller joined the spectators on the bridge. Together, they watched an alarming brown mist rise as river water the shade of a dark chocolate malt tumbled 13 feet over the dam. Enbridge rushed workers to the creek as soon as the spill was confirmed. But even as they positioned absorbent boom on the water's surface and dug culverts to divert the oil, they suspected they wouldn't be able to stop it from surging into the river just a couple of miles away.

How can a lake simply disappear?

Flooding from four days of heavy rain made the oil-soaked water almost impossible to contain. The mile Kalamazoo River is a treasured recreational area. After the federal Clean Water Act was passed in , paper mills, wastewater treatment plants and other polluters had been forced to rein in their once-deadly discharges.

Catastrophic drying

Some stretches were so pristine that canoe paddlers could feel transported back to the 18th or 19th century. If rivers had personalities, Wesley, the fish expert, would have classified the pre-spill Kalamazoo as "natural and wild. Keeping the oil out of this important resource was crucial. But the EPA, which was taking command of the cleanup, was also looking at the bigger picture. The Kalamazoo is not a drinking water source.

But about river miles west of Marshall it empties into Lake Michigan. Together with the other four Great Lakes, Lake Michigan provides drinking water for at least 26 million Americans and close to 10 million Canadians. If the lake became contaminated, a local disaster would escalate into a regional catastrophe. The EPA and Enbridge also worried about a stretch of the river near the city of Kalamazoo, about 43 river miles west of Marshall.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as PCBs, were embedded in the river where a factory had dumped them years ago. The area had been declared a Superfund site, and nobody was sure what might happen if oil mixed with PCBs, which are known carcinogens. The cleanup teams had two advantages as they planned their strategy. The break had occurred just minutes from Enbridge's maintenance facility in Marshall, so some cleanup equipment was immediately available.

Marshall is also close to Interstates 94 and 69, so more apparatus could be trucked in quickly from Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Detroit and Chicago. Dozens of federal, state and local officials converged at a makeshift command center in an Enbridge building near the center of town.

Durk Dunham, Calhoun County's emergency management services director, was confident this would be a quick in-and-out operation. He figured vacuum trucks would quickly remove the oil and everybody would be home for dinner that night. But when Dunham surveyed the devastation from a helicopter later Monday—and saw pure black instead of a ribbon of river—he realized his initial assessment was wrong.

His eyes teared up when he saw the extent of the devastation. By the time Jim Rutherford, Calhoun County's public health officer, arrived that afternoon from his office in Battle Creek, the oil had overwhelmed the creek. Despite the best efforts of the cleanup crews, it was surging into the Kalamazoo River. Rutherford, just two years into his job, was bewildered by what he saw.

He and his staff were prepared to deal with tornadoes and other severe weather but they knew next to nothing about oil spills. Until that afternoon, Rutherford hadn't even known that an oil pipeline passed near Marshall. Yes, EPA was there, but we really needed Enbridge to call the shots. Could a spark ignite a chemical explosion—a major concern at any oil spill? And did the vile-smelling air pose a health risk for nearby residents? Answering the first question was relatively easy. Using monitors that measured the mixture of oxygen and hydrocarbons in the air, the EPA determined that the likelihood of an explosion was low to non-existent.

Every type of crude oil, including diluted bitumen, is made up of hundreds of chemicals, and many of them evaporate into the air after a spill. Scientists don't fully understand how some of these chemicals affect humans. During a congressional hearing on the spill, Scott Masten, a scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, would testify that "the potential for human health effects exist. However, understanding and quantifying these effects requires further study. There has been relatively little long-term research into the human health effects from oil spills.

One chemical commonly found in crude oil—benzene—is of particular concern, because it can cause health effects at low concentrations and over short periods of time. Studies have shown that people regularly exposed to benzene for several years can develop leukemia and other cancers. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental organizations have long contended that dilbit contains more benzene than conventional oil, but it's hard to know whether that's true.

Little research has been done on dilbit, and most of that work was conducted by the industry and is considered proprietary information. Workers with the EPA and Enbridge joined Michigan health officials in using an assortment of hand-held monitors to check the air for benzene, a standard procedure at any big oil spill. Some types of monitors, which they usually had access to, weren't available that first day because they were still at the BP oil spill. The readouts in Marshall fluctuated dramatically.

The monitors detected benzene levels that ranged from below 50 parts per billion ppb to as high as ppb. Some alarming spikes—6, ppb and even 10, ppb—showed up over patches of oil on the water and away from homes. It featured an island with a botanical park, several oil rig platforms and salt mines deep beneath the lake. On November 21, , an oil-drilling team had difficulty removing their drill that got stuck about 1, feet below the lake's surface.

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Suddenly the drilling crew heard loud noises and their platform began tilting. Fearing a total collapse of the oil rig, the workers abandoned the platform.

Historic Grand River photos show how quickly its rapids disappeared

The platform tipped over and, shockingly, disappeared completely under the water. A violent whirlpool quickly developed where the oil rig had been. Other drilling platforms and a dock were sucked in. The direction of the Delcambre Canal, which had flowed into the Gulf of Mexico , was reversed and 11 barges and a tugboat slipped into the whirlpool. Miners in the salt mines 1, feet below began to evacuate when water started rushing into the caverns. As it turned out, a miscalculation had caused the drilling team to work in the wrong spot. A small hole had rapidly expanded as the lake's fresh water flooded in and eroded the mine's salt-rich walls.

Miraculously, all 50 miners got out safely and no one was killed. But a shallow, 3. The reversed Delcambre Canal created a foot waterfall of saltwater, and two days later Lake Peigneur was a 1,foot deep saltwater lake. Many new types of plants and wildlife appeared, and nine of the 11 barges bobbed back up to the surface after the crater was filled with saltwater. In the end, Texaco and its drilling partners paid out millions of dollars in lawsuits , but were probably protected from further damages because the catastrophic nature of the events made it difficult to figure out exactly what had happened.

The Salton Sea in southeastern California is also the result of an environmental disaster. The new dam provided water to the west side canal. It was eventually replaced by a beautification project in the s. The horseshoe-shaped structure was torn down and replaced in by a more permanent wooden dam closer to Sixth Street. The dam provided water to the west side canal — but would again be replaced by a beautification project in the s.

Taylor's Tannery has one of the four burned-off roofs behind the North Ionia school, located to the right of center in the photo. This circa photo shows logs floating down the Grand River above the Sixth Street bridge with Lookout Hill in the background. West Michigan after the Civil War relied heavily on its lumber economy.

Under normal conditions, logs typically were harvested in the winter and brought by sleds and trains to the Grand River. Once the ice melted, logs were placed in the Grand River, then floated to large booms along the river. Logs float down the Grand River around a cable power tower north of the Bridge Street bridge. Grand Rapids Public Museum collections. Although logging in Michigan had passed its peak, it remained the economic life blood of the area.

Grand Haven and Spring Lake Village alone had 26 saw mills dotting the river and bayous to produce lumber for a growing nation. The economic survival of the area depended upon a successful annual log run.

Disappearing Creek | Camp Branch Conservation Area | Florida Hikes!

The flood was a major disaster for post-Civil War West Michigan and could have ruined the area's lumber-based economy. City of Grand Rapids Archives. Record flooding after heavy rains in June and July of caused a magnificent log jam on the river for miles on end. The Great Log Jam of was well-documented by photographers at the time. As water levels rose to record-high levels, the river flooded -- and so did special enclosures holding logs as they waited to be transported to a lumber mill. The logs broke loose like a stampede, and thousands clogged the river and smashed bridges in a mile stretch from Lowell through to Ottawa County.