Tests show it was used motor oil that spilled into Grand River, cleanup continues

The City of Kitchener says used motor oil is what spilled into the Grand River late last month from a private system. Staff will be keeping track of costs and hope to ensure there is minimal impact to taxpayers.

City working to remediate the area, including excavating spill site

The presence of a black substance on the Grand River's shoreline indicates a heavy oil. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Tests have revealed used motor oil is the substance that spilled into the Grand River last month, causing black staining along the shore and a sheen on the water, Kitchener's interim associate director of operations says.

"We believed it was a petroleum substance from the beginning, but it's nice to be able to confirm that so that we know that there's no health and safety concerns related to possible PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyl] … as well as to make sure we can do the best job of cleaning up the environment," Scott Berry said in an interview with CBC Radio's Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Monday morning.

Berry said it is known the used oil leaked from an 800-litre tank, but they are still unsure exactly how much spilled into the river. 

Berry said it is also unclear who will have to pay for what.

"Costs will be substantial," he said. If there is a fine for the spill, it would be handed down by the provincial Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

Ministry spokesman Lindsay Davidson confirmed to CBC News that Code Yellow Towing, which owns property on Forwell Road, is being investigated as the potential source of the spill. 

"We are tracking and recording costs," Berry said, adding staff want to minimize costs to taxpayers.

The city said in a release on Friday the company responsible for the spill has been identified, but that company's name was not released.

Small spills a concern

A sign warns people to stay off the Grand River, and not to drink or fish, while the city of Kitchener works to clean up an oil spill. (Louisette Lanteigne)

The spill was first identified April 29 by someone walking along the Walter Bean trail off Centennial Road in Kitchener, near where the city's storm system discharges into the river.

The city hired a contractor to erect two booms over the water to contain the oil and absorb it. The booms do not absorb water.

In an interview last week, Mark Servos, the University of Waterloo's Canada Research Chair in Water Quality Protection, said even a small spill can disrupt the native species in an area.

"All of these small spills are very important," he said. "All of these things accumulate together. Every time somebody spills a small amount of something, it all ends up in the environment and much of it ends up in the river."

Cleanup continues

Work continued over the weekend to clean up the area. The private storm system in the area has been disconnected from the city's infrastructure.

"The pipe that supplied it, even though the building has been disconnected completely, we're still monitoring that pipe, we've cleaned it out completely," Berry said. "The city's infrastructure has been cleaned completely as well."

Booms have been put in the river to prevent the spilled substance from travelling further downstream. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Booms continue to soak up the oil off the water's surface, and a vacuum truck has been used to clean up the shoreline. In the area where the oil hit the water, stones and soil have been dug up and removed.

"Once we believe we're at the proper level, we'll take samples to make sure there's no contamination. If there is, we'll go back and remove more," Berry said.

In the meantime, recreational users of the river are being asked to stay away from the contaminated area as it's like a construction zone and isunsafe, Berry said.