Is a shipwreck from 1937 polluting Lake Erie?

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

1937 shipwreck appears to be leaking oil in Lake Erie, near Canada/U.S. border.

The Coast Guard is warning boaters to stay away from the area, which is about 3.5 kilometres south of the Canadian border, because it could be dangerous to breathe in the fumes from the solvent. (U.S.TOLEDO, Ohio — Underwater contractors are being sent to Lake Erie to search for the source of what appears to be a petroleum leak coming from a century-old sunken barge recently found in the water near the U.S. Coast Guard has established a safety zone three nautical miles west of Kelley’s Island Shoal after receiving a tip about an unknown substance leaking from a sunken barge.

They are investigating whether the sunken ship is the Argo. “What has been reported from responders is consistent with a lighter-end petroleum-based solvent that would quickly dissipate when it reaches the air,” says Lt. It would be a significant discovery if the vessel turns out to be the Argo, one of 87 shipwrecks on the federal registry created two years ago to identify the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

Shipwreck hunters think the leaking solvent is from a tanker barge that went down between Ohio’s Kelleys Island and Ontario’s Pelee Island during a storm in 1937. Divers this week plan to look for ways to plug any flow from the rusting steel hulk of a ship that historians say was operating illegally when it sank in a storm. “That’s much more easily said than done, but that’s what they are going to try and do,” said Lt. The Argo sank intact carrying more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil and benzol, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Shipwreck hunter Tom Kowalczk, who lives along the lake, discovered the barge in late August while he was searching for a wooden schooner that sunk in 1845. The barge’s measurements match Argo’s dimensions as listed in historical records and there are no reports of another tanker barge being lost in the same area, he said.

Flyovers on Sunday did not show any presence of water discoloration and speculation is the wreck may be intermediately burping petroleum based on changes in water and air temperature and pressure. Based on NOAA modeling of winds and currents, “we don’t expect any of it to reach water intakes or the shoreline,” said Junod. “It evaporates very quickly.” Until the air around the wreck can be properly assessed, “we don’t know if there’s a need for respirators” or other safe breathing equipment on site, he said. According to NOAA, locals have reportedly known of the wreck’s leakage for years and Coast Guard flights over the area as recently as 2012 have noted sheens on the lake surface that weren’t attributable to a contemporary source. In a 2013 NOAA risk assessment report listing more than 80 polluting shipwrecks in U.S. waters, the Argo is listed as the worst of five shipwrecks in the Great Lakes known to pose serious pollution risks.

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