Officials Seek Source Of Petrochemical Leak In River

Technicians gathered samples of the unknown substance, that leaves a telltale sheen on the water.

The view from the rear patio of Rich Effler's home in the 4200 block of Bonniebrook Road is of a yard that slopes gradually down to the grassy Village-owned flood plain abutting the Ottawa River. Across the river from the home is a wooded area of Village-owned land with a winding walking trail.

Effler takes full advantage of the parklands, walking the trail with his dog "quite a bit." His normally enjoyable hikes have recently been marred by a very strong odor of petrochemicals, coming from the river.

"Funny thing is when I am in my yard, I can't smell it, but when I am over here (on the trail), I do," Effler said.

Effler scouted around near the river and was able to see a number of small, oily sheens on the surface of the water. He first smelled the odor on and off about two years ago; however, this year the odor has been "pretty consistent."

Earlier this month Effler commented on the sheen and odor to one of his neighbors, Hans Gottgens, of nearby Bonnie Brae Circle. Gottgens, a member of the Village's Environmental Task Force, had also noticed the odor.

"It is not a new issue," Gottgens said. "I smell it when I pick up the newspaper from my driveway in the morning. I have been smelling it for years, sometimes a lot, sometime a little, sometimes nothing."

"It smelled like fresh asphalt, or like someone's driveway had been resealed," he said. "When I first smelled it years ago, that is what I thought, but then it kept coming back and I realized we didn't have that many driveways in the neighborhood."

Gottgens passed the information along to Village Administrator Marc Thompson. Thompson contacted the City of Toledo Office of Environmental Services.

According to Thompson, several years ago when the Village received its first report of a petrochemical odor coming from the river, he reached out to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The Ohio EPA directed him to Environmental Services with the city for preliminary investigation efforts.

Unlike prior reports of February 2016, and a few years before that, this time crews were able to isolate the area in the river from which the substance emanates.

"A bubble would come up to the surface and an oily sheen would appear," Thompson said. The appearance of the sheen was also accompanied by a strong petrochemical odor.

At first glance, technicians thought it might be heating oil or diesel fuel, but they took samples of the water and substance for analysis to determine exactly what it is, according to Thompson.

"We have no reason to believe there was ever any piping going across the river," Thompson said, so any source of petrochemicals would be a surprise.

The most likely source of the contamination is a container buried under the sediment of the river, but further investigation is needed to determined exactly what is leaking, where it is, and how much there is.

"It is not a critical pollution source for the river," according to Gottgens. "It is toxic. It is something to be cleaned up, clearly, but I do not expect a massive fish kill. It is like any oil spill. It looks pretty dramatic, but it is basically organic matter."

"The only way to solve the problem is to remove it," Gottgens said. "Unless they don't mind it leaking for a couple more decades, but I don't think that is an option."

Officials expect to have the test results of the water samples by April.

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