500 gallons of waste oil pollute Cayuga Creek

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

Add another blemish to the long history of environmental degradation of Cayuga Creek.

An estimated 500 gallons of presumed waste oil contaminated the creek between Sunday and Monday mid-afternoon, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. That’s equivalent to dumping a dozen normal-sized barrels of waste oil into the creek.

“Cayuga Creek is an already impaired system, and this waste oil spill is one more assault to a creek that has been struggling to recover for decades,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, whose nonprofit had reported the spill to the DEC on Monday.

Some 500 gallons of presumed waste oil defiled Cayuga Creek this week

DEC officials for the past three nights have worked to contain the oil spill.

The DEC said in a statement to Investigative Post that the oil discharged from a storm-drain pipe near the intersection of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Tuscarora Road in Niagara Falls. Although the DEC said it has stopped the oil from spreading, a sheen is visible in the water for at least an eighth of a mile.

The DEC is working with the City of Niagara Falls code enforcers and Water Board officials to find who is responsible for the incident.

“The storm pipe covers a large drainage area, making it very difficult to pinpoint the exact source of the waste oil released,” the DEC stated in an emailed response to Investigative Post.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper posted on its Facebook page that the incident appears to be a deliberate act.

I received a tip at 3 p.m. Monday by a Niagara County resident who emailed me a photograph of a brown, thick substance floating in the creek. I immediately contacted Riverkeeper to ask if anyone could help identify the substance.

Jedlicka said Riverkeeper immediately reported the incident to the DEC’s Spill Hotline and a rapid response team was on site within 90 minutes.

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DEC officials for the past three nights have been trying to remove the oil from Cayuga Creek.

But Jedlicka said clean-up efforts like this typically fail to recover all of the contamination.

“Most likely there will be some residual chemical or petroleum residue left behind in soil, sediments or attached to plant matter, that will have a temporary and localized impact,” she said.

WGRZ’s Claudine Ewing on Wednesday followed up on our report with more information about the DEC’s investigation:

Anyone with information on this incident can call the DEC’s spill hotline at 800-457-7362 or Riverkeeper’s office at 852-7483.