Cleanup efforts underway after oil spill into Humber River in Toronto

People spend part of the May long weekend on the Humber River in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, May 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin.

Cleanup efforts are underway after oil spilled into the Humber River earlier this week.

Lawson Oates Director of Environment and Administration at the City of Toronto, told Global News the city was notified of the spill on Monday.

According to Oates, a concerned citizen saw the spill and notified officials.

“My understanding is it was like an oil sheen on the surface of the creek, the outfall point and then proceeding into Humber River,” Oates said.

Once the spill was contained, Oates said officials undertook “two key actions.”

Read more: U.S. Coast Guard assisting after oil spill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“Our first action (at) Toronto water was to set up containment booms to limit any of the oil getting into the natural environment into the river courses impacting ecosystems,” he said.

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“We then also launched an investigation and traced the spill back to a manufacturing plant in the industrial park in the Finch and Weston Road area — where we believe is the source of the spill — and began working with the company to understand how the spill occurred and to engage them in their responsibility for cleanup efforts.”

Oates said the investigation has revealed that machine oil was in a holding tank, and as it was moved to another tank, a pumping mechanism jammed, leading to an overflow.

He said the company has taken note, and they have “taken action to correct that situation.”

Impact on the environment

Oates said he believes the initial containment effort has been “successful in mitigating any large impact to the natural environment and the ecosystems in the area.”

“The response was timely,” he explained. “And as we speak, there is work undertaking now to collect oil that has come from the plant and isn’t moved from catch basins due to the rain that we’ve had this week, and then to the lines that the city has the sewers, to collect that oil.”

He said there is a “major cleanup effort underway,” adding that the city is continuing to monitor the situation.

Read more: Cleanup underway after oil from Hydro One transmission station leaked into Don River

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According to Oates, the oil spilled into the storm sewer collection system.

“It doesn’t impact any residential collection systems or sanitary waste,” he said. “We typically will make sure that there’s no damage to our pipes as part of our investigation.”

Oates said in this case, the main concern was the impact to the natural environment and watercourses.

Click to play video: 'Measures in place following oil spill near Algoma steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.'
Measures in place following oil spill near Algoma steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

According to Oates, the type of oil that was spilled into the river was machine oil.

“Machine oil is manageable for us (and) for the cleanup,” he explained.

Oates said if the spill had been a flammable material, Toronto Fire Services would be called to help with containment procedures.

“But in this case, we were able to take action given the nature of the material and the relative volume of it,” he said.

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Read more: Clean up underway after 1,000 litres of engine oil spills in north Regina

Oates said any time there is a spill, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is notified.

In an email to Global News on Thursday, Gary Wheeler a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks said the ministry takes “all spills and threats to the environment very seriously.”

“Our role is to respond to spills, inspect the natural environment for potential impacts, and work with those responsible to make sure the effects are mitigated and appropriate actions are taken to protect human health and the natural environment,” Wheeler wrote.

Wheeler said the ministry was notified on Nov. 28 that there had been an oil spill to a catch basin.

“The spill had been largely contained within the catch basin,” the email read. “A vacuum truck, and absorbent booms and pads (have been) deployed to begin initial spill cleanup efforts.”

Wheeler said a drum of machine oil was spilled.

“The total amount of machine oil spilt has not been determined at this time,” he said.

Wheeler said an environment contractor has cleaned up the catch basin and the area of the spill.

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“As of December 1, the cleanup of the affected stormwater line is ongoing,” the email said. “Staff from the City of Toronto have deployed additional spill containment measures at the stormwater outfall.”

Wheeler said the ministry will “continue to engage with City of Toronto and the manufacturing company to ensure the clean-up is completed.”

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