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Officials Now Say Anacostia 'Oil Spill' Not An Oil Spill

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The still unidentified substance mixes with debris in the Anacostia River after Monday's contamination.
Sabri Ben-Achour
The still unidentified substance mixes with debris in the Anacostia River after Monday's contamination.

The investigation into the brown mess that spilled into the Anacostia River yesterday has now become a joint operation involving District officials and the U.S. Coast Guard. Even with that effort, however, no one is quite sure what exactly spilled into the river Monday night.

Officials originally reported that an oil spill occurred on the river near Benning Road NE. D.C. Fire and EMS technicians, District environmental experts, and coast guard authorities have been trying to mop up some type of spill in this area, as well as up and down the river, since yesterday.

But tests have come back showing that the substance doesn't bear similarities to petroleum products. "It's a brown to blackish product that sits just below the surface of the water," says Richard Schaeffer, a river pilot with D.C. Fire and EMS. "It moves in waves; it's not affected by wind but is affected by tidal movement. It doesn't contain any specific odor."

Adds U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Randall Brown: "The product was tested but at this point there is no clear indication of what it is," he says.

"This morning we found no significant reports of actual sheening or petroleum based product," says Brown, "Nothing has been collected in the booms overnight that would lead us to a petroleum product."

Once investigators do find the source of the spill, that party will be held responsible for the spill, according to D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer.

"Once they find the source, if its land based, runoff lets say or if it's a leak we haven't discovered yet then well determine whose responsible so they can contain it and clean it up," Piringer says.

Meanwhile the booms in the Anacostia River that surround the affected portions of the waterway are meant to prevent flow of the product, whatever it is, into the Potomac.

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