Thursday dawned like any other day. But by the time most people got their morning coffee and made it to the office, there had already been a marked difference to this particular day. Sometime in the wee hours of Thursday, October 7, while most of us were still asleep, an oil tanker being hauled by a big rig suddenly came loose, resulting in a ruptured tank that spilled nearly 6,800 gallons of heavy-grade marine diesel in an industrial yard in Compton, just south of Los Angeles. Most of the diesel spilled onto pavement, although some of the product was able to reach a storm drain and a concrete channel near the source of the spill. The tanker belonged to Asbury Environmental Services, a company of about 450 trucks that transport waste oil and hazardous liquid materials around the state. Fortunately, cleanup began immediately, with 4,800 gallons recovered by nightfall.
A diesel spill is like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, diesel evaporates quickly, especially in a warm environment such as Compton. On the other hand, if wildlife come into contact with diesel, it can cause severe burns, both externally and internally, such as in the nares and respiratory system from breathing the fumes, or in the digestive system if it is ingested. Because of this, it was important to get field operation teams to the scene as quickly as possible. By mid-morning, two highly trained personnel from International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in San Pedro were scanning the area for affected wildlife. This team surveyed the entire location the rest of that day and on Friday, and only reported a few birds (mostly American Coots and a moorhen) that had a slight sheen on their feathers but could still fly. The presence of cleanup crews after oil or diesel spills often helps deter birds from the affected areas, and this appeared to also be the case during the cleanup of this spill, potentially lessening the number of wildlife that could have been impacted.
No birds, dead or alive, were collected from this diesel spill thanks to the quick action of the cleanup crews and the field operations team. Once again, we dodged the bullet, and quoting the wise saying that is written on the Asbury Environmental Services website, “Protecting our environment today, so we will have one tomorrow”. This is a good motto for all of us to keep in mind. Next time we may not be so lucky.