Pittsburgh Suburbs Face Water Cutoff After Oil Spill

Associated Press

Emergency crews raced today to contain a 92-mile oil spill that has contaminated two of the city's three rivers, threatened to shut off drinking water for 750,000 suburban residents and halted shipping along the Monongahela.

Western Pennsylvania Water Co. closed one of two Monongahela intakes to prevent the fuel from contaminating water supplies in towns south and west of here. No communities had lost their water by this morning, but 50,000 people were expected to lose their water today.

"They're going to go down," said utility spokesman Dennis Casey. "The main tank . . . is nearly empty."

The spill began Saturday night when an Ashland Oil Co. fuel tank collapsed and about a million gallons of diesel fuel flowed into the Monongahela River.

Western Pennsylvania Water Co. implored its customers in two counties to conserve water because the largest of its two riverside treatment plants could no longer draw from the Monongahela.

7 Towns to Lose Water

The towns of Greentree, Dormont, Carnegie, Crafton, Ingram, Mount Lebanon and Scott Township will probably lose their water supply today.

Gov. Robert P. Casey put the Pennsylvania National Guard on alert to deliver emergency water supplies. Water trucks will be available to dispense potable water; residents would have to pick up the water in buckets.

The city of Pittsburgh's water comes from the Allegheny River and was unaffected. The Allegheny and the Monongahela converge near downtown Pittsburgh to form the Ohio.

Boat traffic on the heavily used Monongahela was halted for 25 miles, and adjacent rail lines and highways were temporarily closed.

Booms stretched across the Monongahela, 2,000 feet at its widest, dammed much of the oil, but some of the smelly fuel escaped. The Coast Guard this morning said the pollution had reached Newell, W.Va., and East Liverpool, Ohio, 65 miles below the city and 92 miles downstream from the tank.

Age of Tank in Question

The spill occurred when a storage tank collapsed at Ashland's Floreffe Terminal near West Elizabeth, officials said. Ashland had said the tank was new, but the Pittsburgh Press reported today that the tank was actually 40 years old and had recently been moved from Cleveland.

The cause of the collapse had not been determined, but one official speculated that the tank's foundation might have shifted.

About 7,000 of the approximately 1 million gallons of diesel fuel floating in the Monongahela and Ohio rivers was recovered by late Sunday, officials said.

Speed is important because the fuel is slowly dissolving into the water, making it more difficult to recover, said Coast Guard Lt. John Farthing.

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