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Navy Says Failed Pump Led To Oily Wastewater Spill In Puget Sound

The view from an airplane window of the sheen on Hood Canal in Puget Sound following Monday's Naval Base Kitsap Bangor.
Washington Department of Ecology
The view from an airplane window of the sheen on Hood Canal in Puget Sound following Monday's Naval Base Kitsap Bangor.

The Navy is blaming a failed pump for its spill of nearly 2,000 gallons of oily wastewater into Puget Sound.

Tom Danaher, spokesman for Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, said the Navy was using a pumping system on one of its piers to remove oily bilge water from a ship late Monday.

An electrical ground prevented the pump from automatically shutting off when a 4,000 holding tank was filled –- and because the operation was not attended, it took about 20-30 minutes before naval staff realized that oil-contaminated waste-water was pouring into the sound, Danaher said in an interview Wednesday.

“So the pumps did not get the signal that the tank was full. The tank overflowed,” he said. “When the people on the pier saw the overflow, we stopped all pumping and started our clean up.”

The cleanup expanded Wednesday to include the deployment of surveyors who are walking the beaches around Hood Canal where the spill occurred, Danaher said.

Initially, the Navy had indicated the spill involved 150-200 gallons but since then, the unified spill command – including the Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Washington Department of Ecology – have agreed the spill involved nearly 2,000 gallons.

Containing the spill has involved the use of booms to absorb the oily sheen. Danaher said the cleanup has been “like chasing a ghost.”

“Because it’s oily waste, it’s about 95 percent water and that makes it very difficult to absorb and it moves very fast because it’s so light,” he said.

Initially, Navy personnel were skeptical about Washington Department of Ecology reports that the spill had traveled about 10 miles to the Hood Canal Bridge. But then they looked at the state agency’s aerial photographs of the sheen on the water surrounding the bridge.

Danaher described his own reaction to seeing the photos this way:

“Well, there’s good chance it’s probably related to this spill. I wouldn’t know what else to say. I wouldn’t say well, no, that wasn’t it. Some guy dumped his motor boat oil.”

(Photo Slideshow courtesy of Washington Department of Ecology)

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Ashley Ahearn