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Water Supplies Drying Up as Oil Spill Spreads

January 05, 1988|From Times Wire Services

WEST ELIZABETH, Pa. — Drinking water started to dry up Monday in Pittsburgh suburbs as Gov. Robert P. Casey declared a disaster emergency over a million-gallon diesel oil spill that has spread more than 50 miles down the Monongahela and Ohio rivers into West Virginia and Ohio.

"We have no water in our community," said Sue Jarecki, a clerk for the Municipal Authority of Robinson Township, which serves 13,000 residents.

Officials said it could be days or even weeks before normal water service is restored.

Water tanks were placed at two fire departments and a school bus depot where residents could take containers to fill and carry home, she said.

Two water companies that serve 80 communities in the Pittsburgh area shut water pumping stations from the Monongahela and Ohio rivers because of fear of possible contamination.

A spokesman for Western Pennsylvania Water Co., which serves 750,000 people and had to close one of its two water intakes on the Monongahela, said: "We could go down . . . at any time."

He predicted dry faucets by this morning for up to 50,000 residents of seven communities in Pittsburgh's suburban South Hills who are served by the closed intake. "The water supply is hanging by a thread," said Rep. Doug Walgren (D-Pa.), whose district includes the waterless area.

Conservation Ordered

Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, who is also head of the state emergency management agency, ordered mandatory water conservation in affected areas. Businesses that do not perform services for public health and safety were told to curtail use, and homeowners were asked to significantly reduce water use for at least the next two to three days.

Casey authorized the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to spend up to $2 million on disaster relief. Monday night, the agency ordered across-the-board reductions in water use and the elimination of non-essential use. Agency spokesman John Comey said the order requires individuals to reduce water consumption by half.

Penalties include a $200 fine or up to 30 days in jail for a first offense, or $500 fines and 90 days for subsequent offenses.

The governor's emergency proclamation activated the National Guard as a precaution.

Floating booms placed on the river after an Ashland Oil Co. tank collapsed Saturday at Ashland's Floreffe terminal in West Elizabeth trapped the bulk of the oil. But an undetermined amount got past the barriers at Pittsburgh and into the Ohio River and was detected at Newell, W. Va., Coast Guard spokesman Scott Nelson said.

The 16,000 residents in East Liverpool, Ohio, were asked to store water in containers so the city's reserve tanks could be refilled before the oil slick reached the area, said Mayor Jim Scafide.

The diesel fuel, six inches thick, did not form one continuous slick. The clear, smelly oil was being suctioned from the surface of the river behind the floating booms, with about 30,000 gallons recovered by Monday.

Officials said it would take at least three or four days--and perhaps weeks--for oil to be skimmed off or diluted enough to meet federal standards that would allow water companies to take in water again.

40-Year-Old Tank

The Ashland tank was a 40-year-old vessel moved last year from Cleveland and put into service at the Ashland terminal in August.

Schools were closed in seven districts as a water conservation measure, affecting an estimated 18,000 students.

Stores were selling out of bottled water almost as quickly as it hit the shelves. The Giant Eagle supermarket in Robinson Township sold its quota of 300 one-gallon water jugs within 25 minutes, store manager Dave Trunzo said.

Pittsburgh's water comes from the Allegheny River and was unaffected. The Allegheny and Monongahela converge near downtown Pittsburgh to form the Ohio.

The heavily used Monongahela remained closed to river traffic from the Ashland terminal to Pittsburgh, a distance of 27 miles.

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