Kitchener-Waterloo·Photos

Grand River spill a 'wake-up call' to Waterloo region

The discovery of a petroleum-like substance floating in the Grand River is a wake up call for residents of Waterloo Region according to a local expert in aquatic ecosystems.

Mark Servos says spill is a reminder to not put anything but water down municipal storm drains

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

The discovery of a petroleum-like substance floating in the Grand River is a wake up call for residents of Waterloo Region, according to a local expert in aquatic ecosystems.

Mark Servos is the University of Waterloo's Canada Research Chair in Water Quality Protection and has been studying the impacts of small chemical spills on rainbow darters, a small fish found in the Grand River.

"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

As of Tuesday evening, City of Kitchener staff were still working on cleaning up the spill.

"At this time the exact nature of the substance and exact source of the spill remain unconfirmed," the city said in a release.

"City staff has broadened their inspection of the river beyond the initial spill site to understand the full magnitude of the spill and determine any additional remediation actions required," the release added. 

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

Deadly effect

Because the size of this spill and the identity of the spilled substance is still unknown, Servos said it is hard to determine how local wildlife will be affected. 

He said that when oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, some of the contaminate floated on the surface of the water and ended up coating the fur and feathers of local wildlife, making it difficult for them to regulate their body temperatures.

It's not just the industry. It's us as well.- Mark Servos, University of Waterloo

At the same time, he said some of the contaminate was dissolved in the water and was consumed or absorbed by birds and animals.

"That's kind of the unseen part that is under the surface and is much harder to detect," he said, "and it can kill them."

The yellow boom restrains the spilled substance, while the white netted material absorbs any residue on the water surface. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Good reminder

Servos hopes the spill that was discovered in the Grand River on Friday will remind residents not to dump anything but water down storm drains. 

"The storm water [system], it's designed to capture some of the particles and things – some of the metals – but it's not designed to capture people pouring a can of oil or a can of paint," he said.

"We need to be aware that our actions and our decisions every day make a huge difference on the quality of that river. It's not just the industry. It's us as well."

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