Residents Concerned for Health, Wildlife in Wake of Fuel Spill
An estimated 26,000 gallons of diesel fuel entered waterways in Gloucester and Camden counties, including Blackwood Lake and Big Timber Creek.
Roughly 24 hours after they first learned a significant fuel leak in Washington Township had fouled waterways along the border of Camden and Gloucester counties, township residents living on the spill-impacted Blackwood Lake and Big Timber Creek are concerned about their own health and that of the fish and wildlife that live in or near the water.
"It's not just the smell," Blackwood resident Christian Fleck said. "I don't want to be paranoid, but it's a health issue. ... My fear is people will get sick."
Fleck, who lives on Marshall Avenue, with Blackwood Lake effectively serving as his backyard, is concerned about what may happen to the turtles, fish and birds he routinely observes from one of his home's decks or the dock on the water.
"I think that's the main concern. It was like a sanctuary in this whole urbanized area," he said.
Roughly 26,000 gallons of diesel fuel reportedly leaked from a failed gasket between two underground fuel tanks at New Jersey Transit's bus depot on Route 42 in Washington Township.
It is not known exactly when the gasket blew, but it is believed to have occurred overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning.
Blackwood Fire Co. was dispatched to investigate an "unusual odor" in the area at about 7:40 a.m. Thursday, according to Mayor David Mayer.
What officials have labeled a "fuel sheen" was first discovered on the surface of Grenloch Lake, in Washington Township, an hour to hour-and-a-half later. The diesel then apparently made its way into Big Timber Creek and Blackwood Lake.
Camden County health officials maintained again Friday that the fuel spill has not impacted drinking-water supplies.
Like Fleck, Joe and Susan Valentino look to the wildlife that surrounds their home on Big Timber Creek on a daily basis as an element that makes their residence, well, a home.
“Heartbreaking. This is simply heartbreaking,” Susan Valentino said as she peered over the bridge on Black Horse Pike looking down at Grenloch Lake Friday morning.
Wide swathes of oily patches floated on the surface, some contained by yellow booms set up to contain the spread.
Valentino regularly feeds the ducks living near her home—“They eat better than I do,” husband Joe joked—and worries about what the fuel spill will do to the animals.
The odor of diesel fuel was noticeable up and down the Black Horse Pike—from Sicklerville Road in the township's Erial section up to Church Street in Blackwood—Thursday morning well into the evening.
"When I walked out the front door (Thursday morning around 7:30 a.m.), it smelled like I was right on top of the spill," Railroad Avenue resident Mike Rebbecchi said Friday morning.
Rebbecchi, who lives near Blackwood Lake on a 15-to-20-foot-wide stretch of Big Timber Creek, reported that the "odor had diminished" by Friday morning.
"It was better today," he said.
Rebbecchi noted his children's school changed its standard operating procedures as a precaution following the spill.
The students at Our Lady of Hope Regional School, located on the Black Horse Pike in Blackwood, typically are lined up outside of the school, then taken inside. On Friday, the students were ordered to go straight into the school from their buses.
Fleck, who left the Marshall Avenue home he shares with his elderly parents in favor of a friend's in Philadelphia Thursday night after he says the diesel smell caused him a severe headache—"You couldn't escape the smell," he said—spoke with his mother, Ida, Friday morning. The smell had not dissipated, he was informed.
While he nor his parent had seen any themselves, Fleck reported that a neighbor told him he had found a few dead geese on his property.
Clean Venture Inc., which is based in Elizabeth but with an office in Clayton, is handling the containment and cleanup for New Jersey Transit.
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection personnel and workers from Camden and Gloucester counties' health departments are also on the ground for the spill.
Camden County Patch associate regional editor Lauren Burgoon contributed to this report.