The spill that turned the stream red blamed on a federal contractor
A diesel fuel spill in early December that turned a tributary of the Congaree River red was attributed to a government contractor whose crews were replacing a generator in the federal building in Strom Thurmond.
Pyramid Contracting of Irmo is listed in a Federal Oil Spill Database as a Responsible Company. The US General Service Administration said a contractor “took responsibility for the spill” and cleanup efforts were initiated after the leak on Dec. 3.
Jim Ott, a senior project manager at Pyramid, said a contractor hired by Pyramid leaked the diesel.
“Someone just made a mistake,” Ott said, declining to name the subcontractor.
A spokesperson for the General Services Administration said the agency is monitoring any environmental impact and is working with the contractor to “identify all causes of the spill.”
Ott, in an interview with The State, said the diesel had never reached the Congaree River, where the creek flows, and the fuel had been cleaned up.
State regulators initially said 800 gallons leaked onto the ground and into a storm sewer, making the release relatively large for Columbia.
Emergency response teams discovered that storm water pipes and drainage pipes connected to the creek from the source of the discharge, according to the HC Ministry of Health and Environmental Control.
But Ott said only about 200 gallons entered the creek. The rest of the diesel was confined to the site where it spilled, he told The State.
“He never left the building,” he said.
This month’s spill sparked a vivid scene in downtown Columbia. The unnamed creek, which is normally a muddy blue or brown color, turned red for miles, and the smell of diesel was easy to spot along much of the creek.
The stream crosses Memorial Park and under Gervais Street before re-emerging from a pipe near the Gervais Bridge along the Congaree. The stream passes under a popular boardwalk and a Congaree River viewing area below the State Museum.
The leak occurred as the subcontractor was removing service lines that served an old diesel generator from the Strom Thurmond building on Assembly Street, Ott said. The diesel generator is being replaced by a natural gas generator, Ott said.
Diesel, some of which is dyed red to identify type, is often used to power trucks, farm equipment, and generators. It is one of the most toxic types of oil to fish and other animals that live in the water, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fact sheet. Small spills of less than 5,000 gallons are often quickly diluted in open water, but they can be a problem in confined and shallow water, the fact sheet says.
The SC Natural Resources Department, which is investigating oil spills affecting wildlife, made no immediate comment on the Dec. 3 fuel spill on Monday. But Ott said the diesel “was taken out of the stream within 72 hours. There was absolutely no impact on wildlife or the environment.”
Pyramid is a construction company that operates in three states. She specializes in, among other things, commercial, federal and defense work. The company says it supports sustainable construction and is a member of the US Green Building Council.
This story was originally published December 20, 2021 11:03 a.m.