Contamination Seen in Upper Potomac

Update Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The EPA has named the source of the spill as the NRG Power Plant in Dickerson, Md. The sheen has been identified as an oil used in the turbines of the power plant. Officials state that less than 150 gallons were discharged into the Potomac River. An EPA spokesperson said that the spill amount was determined by NRG’s assessment of how much oil could not be accounted for.

Current focus is on cleanup and recovery operations. The EPA has requested that NRG Power provide a team to sufficiently provide “an aggressive shoreline cleanup program from the NRG plant down to Whites Ferry” as well as additional cleanup efforts downriver where sheen was observed.

Drinking water is safe and protected. The sheen is still visible in limited areas downriver. Water utilities still affected are keeping protective booms in place to prevent the substance from entering their intakes and performing additional testing. All water utilities are reporting safe drinking water.

Update Thursday, November 1, 2016

A multi-state multi-agency team continues to look for the source of an oil-like sheen on the Potomac River downstream of the confluence with the Monocacy River. The ICPRB has been using its time-of-travel river spill model to provide information to help drinking water suppliers to protect their facilities. The model effectiveness has been of limited because of the lack of data about the spill, including its location, volume, and duration. The model also assumes a contaminant that is mixed into the water, rather than floating on the surface. Lab results due on Friday should help identify the substance. All drinking water facilities are operating, safe, and protected.

11:30am, November 29, 2016

A sheen on the water surface of the Potomac River near Point of Rocks, Md. was first reported by authorities on Sunday, November 27. State and federal agencies, water suppliers, and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin are responding to the contamination. Metropolitan water utilities are taking extra steps to protect drinking water supplies, and safe water delivery is continuing without problems.

State and federal agencies are ascertaining the exact extent of the contamination. The source and the material are unknown, as well as whether the event has stopped or is continuing. Initial samples indicate a hydrocarbon of some kind, perhaps a heavy lubricating oil. More detailed results are expected soon.

In addition to coordinating spill communications among state and federal authorities and water suppliers, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) is helping track the progress of the unknown substance down the river. Staff at ICPRB are utilizing the Emergency River Spill Model to provide approximate arrival times to water intakes downstream. During a spill event, the Spill Model provides estimated time of arrival, maximum contaminant concentration, and the time the contaminant is expected to be past the water intake. The lack of information about the event makes modeling the spill difficult.

Some water suppliers such as Fairfax Water and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), have shut down some intakes during this time. Fairfax Water and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments also have issued press releases.

Visit our website to learn more about ICPRB’s role in spill response, including spill protection planning and spill emergency response.

This article will be updated as new information becomes available.