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Black Water

Cleanup underway for Accotink oil dump.

No one has seen the likes of it.

Virginia State Police, in cooperation with City of Fairfax and Fairfax County fire marshals, are investigating a 500-gallon oil dump in Fairfax.

On Tuesday, Aug. 9, a City of Fairfax Fire Department press release reported that 300 gallons of petroleum product had been dumped illegally in a dry creek bed near the Route 123 ramp onto eastbound I-66. City and county emergency units had discovered the oil after responding to a report of a strong petroleum odor in the area.

After some investigation, said Sgt. Terry Licklader of the Virginia State Police, the size of the spill grew to 500 gallons.

The product, thought to be diesel fuel, had soaked into the ground and entered Accotink Creek through a small tributary.

Licklader said the dump must have occurred on Saturday, Aug. 6.

Although investigators first thought the petroleum product had migrated all the way to the Pickett Road and Braddock Road area, said city Fire Chief Tom Owens, the product was contained in the area around Stafford Drive.

"The oil had been contained, and no other tributaries come off Accotink (Creek) between where the spill originated and where it stopped," said Owens.

On Monday, Aug. 15 and Tuesday, Aug. 16, cleanup crews removed the oil-soaked soil along the exit ramp, and put down and reseeded new soil, said Jay Green of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Cleanup of this particular spill was especially tricky, said Green. The incident occurred soon after the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the DEQ entered into a new understanding about cleanup, he said. Before July 1, VDOT would respond to an incident such as this one, and the DEQ would finance cleanup and other measures taken to correct the situation.

Now, said Green, cleanup responsibility goes to the DEQ.

"We have things under control," he said. "It was very difficult to access it. Emergency responders couldn’t get to it."

The petroleum product flowed from the area along the exit ramp to Accotink Creek, said Green, traveling through a culvert under Route 123. There is very little shoulder room on the ramp itself.

"The manner in which this was done could not have been better done to make it difficult," said Green. "The level of efficiency needed goes far beyond the level of efficiency normally needed for (this scale of) spill."

Even so, said Green, the cleanup is going "very well." DEQ will continue to monitor the area for at least the next several weeks to see if the petroleum has any effect on Accotink Creek or the surrounding environment.

"We have not had a chance to determine what lasting effects the release will have on the stream because we were trying to get the oil cleaned up," Green said.

"I’ve been up here for 20 years," said Licklater. "I can never remember somebody doing something like that."

Nor can Green. Even though 500 gallons is "not huge" for someone doing his job, "I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years," he said.

Licklader said the Virginia State Police have opened a criminal investigation to find the perpetrator, and that they are following some leads.

Several possible motivations for an oil dump such as this one exist, said Owens. It could be accumulated motor oil, oil from a home heating tank, or residue from construction. It could also be a commercial operator unwilling to follow Environmental Protection Agency disposal standards.

"There are so many potential sources," said Owens. "It’s one of things that makes the investigation a bit difficult."

The City Fire Department is appealing for the public’s help, said Owens. Citizens with any information regarding this incident should call Fairfax City Assistant Fire Marshal Gary Orndoff at 703-385-7857, or Fairfax County Assistant Fire Marshal Charles Hile at 703-246-4800.