A barge collision with a railroad bridge near Vicksburg, Mississippi on Sunday could possibly spill 80,000 gallons of oil into the river. Coast Guard representatives confirm that that cleanup crews are still on the scene and that a 2,800-feet boom had been deployed around the barge immediately following the incident. The damaged barge is actively leaking oil into the water as officials wait for a salvage agreement to be put in place.
Two barges carrying an estimated 160,000 gallons of light crude oil were being towed by a tugboat when they ran into the bridge. The second barge does not seem to have sustained damage to its tanks. For now, 16 miles of the Mississippi River have been closed to all activity. This includes boating, recreational and sport angling, and commercial fishing. The Coast Guard does not have an estimate of when the river will be opened to the public, but stresses that crews are cleaning the oily mixture from the surface of the water.
Freshwater bodies like the Mississippi River are especially vulnerable to oil spills and may carry long-lasting effects of each spill. The physical properties of oil can affect all levels of the local food chain from bottom up. Oil in river sediment and fauna will impact the wildlife that feeds on them, namely insects, fish and birds.
Mississippi’s last major oil spill occurred in 2008 when a oil barge collided with another ship and split in half. Nearly 300,000 gallons of oil were spilled into the river and the waterway had to be closed for six days.