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Posted on Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

Chemical found in Huron River was petroleum-based, official says

By Tina Reed

Preliminary testing on the substance discovered in the Huron River near the University of Michigan's Nichols Arboretum earlier this week showed it was petroleum-based, officials said.


A look at the chemical discovered on the Huron River as photographed and submitted by Ann Arbor resident Kai Petaninen.

Courtesy photo | Kai Petaninen

It's believed the spill could have come from someone dumping fuel or some other chemical down a storm drain, said Diane Brown, spokeswoman for U-M's Department of Public Safety.

No further testing will be done on the substance because it appears to be an isolated discharge and is no longer flowing into the river, Brown said.

A passerby noticed a sheen on the surface of the water Monday evening and reported it to the Ann Arbor Fire Department. It appeared to be coming from a storm drain near the river.

Booms were put out on the water to absorb as much of the chemical as possible, but the current and heavy storms Monday evening dispersed it, officials said.

Tina Reed covers health and the environment for You can reach her at, call her at 734-623-2535 or find her on Twitter @TreedinAA.


Rod Johnson

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 9:19 p.m.

Fair enough.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 7:26 p.m.

U-M's Diane Brown stated it appears to be an isolated discharge, that is not nonpoint source pollition.

Kai Petainen

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 6:58 p.m.

i suppose it would be useful to know something like... "the spill entered the river at 'such and such a location'... and that location has '### number of possible entry points'" i don't know where it came from or how it got there. all i know is that i saw what i saw. if you stood on the pedestrian bridge near the arb and looked upstream to the train bridge and then downstream to as far as you could see the river from that location - for at least two hours -- that entire area was covered in oil. i'm not the only one who saw it. there were emergency personnel on that pedestrian bridge as well, who came for at least part of that time and saw it. and if it is an 'isolated' event, then as far as i've lived in ann arbor and looked at the huron river... that sure was one heck of an isolated event.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 6:46 p.m.

It's hard to believe in this day and age that people still dump oil or gas into the sewers. I would report somebody in a heartbeat if I saw them doing something like that.

Rod Johnson

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 6:41 p.m.

It's not worth it if it's practically impossible! Suppose you laboriously trace back to the source. That takes days or weeks, because you have to test at every branch--maybe 40 sewers eventually end up at that point in the system, and *if* you're lucky enough to get results you can interpret at all those branchings (which you won't if other contaminants are obscuring things), eventually you find yourself in some parking lot or street that 10000 vehicles may have passed through recently. And doing all this work costs a lot of money and staff time. What do you do then? Do you commit all those resources knowing that that's a fairly probable outcome? I'm not condoning dumping. I'm just saying sometimes there's not much you can do, and you don't do things that are disproportionate with the likely benefit.

dading dont delete me bro

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 5:33 p.m.

@rod j, our clean water isn't worth it?


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 4:53 p.m.

Thank you for the follow up. But how did the u-m department of public safety take over testing when the u-m is a possible suspect for the spill, what happened to Ann Arbor Water Quality Manager Molly Wade, after all it was the Ann Arbor Fire Department who got called then responed to the spill?

Kai Petainen

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 4:50 p.m.

i have to wonder... assuming it's illegal dumping and not an accident... did the person who dumped it... plan on it getting washed away during the storms that night?

Rod Johnson

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

dading: Tracing the sources of contaminants in storms sewers is a very difficult thing to do, especially if it's nonpoint source pollution, which this could be. It's one of those things that seems possible in principle, but practical terms the cost and the complexity make it hard to do. And if you do trace it back to the sewer grate that some guy dumped it in days ago, what then? We just have to grit our teeth and deal with cleanup.


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 3:19 p.m.

Didn't the city recycling just stop accepting motor oil at curb pickup? There you go...


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 2:43 p.m.

I think this hints at a deeper conspiracy to open the Huron River to deep water oil drilling. I saw some shady characters in BP jackets hanging around the Arb lately....


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 1:59 p.m.

The impact of the BP Gulf spill knows few bounds.

dading dont delete me bro

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 10:58 a.m.

"...No further testing will be done on the substance because it appears to be an isolated discharge and is no longer flowing into the river, Brown said." however, is the actual spill being investigated? appearing to possibly be something dumped into a storm drain, this should be able to be traced back to the neighborhood or area it came from. trace amounts, although ppm, should still be detectible.