Water Defense Scientist estimate 20 K gallons of oil in James Ri - Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports - WNCT.com

Water Defense Scientist estimate 20 K gallons of oil in James River

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It's day two in the clean-up of the train derailment in downtown Lynchburg.

At this point two train cars that carried crude oil are still in the James River.

The lead investigator with the national transportation safety board held a press conference Friday afternoon.

He says preliminary reports show the crew handled the train properly and there was no error on the drivers part.

He also says at this point there are no signs of mechanical problems or equipment defects with the cars that did not derail, but crews will continue to examine equipment and data recorders.

Southworth says the area around where the derailment happened is still unsafe and he doesn't know when it will be reopen to the public.

So far, officials are saying very little about the possibility of environmental affects to the area from the spill.

A national group who's mission is to keep the U.S. waterways clean is now in Lynchburg to test the James River.

The group is called Water Defense. The group is best known for working on the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but has worked on every major oil spill since, especially the past three bakken oil spills.

Friday, WSLS went along with the group as they tested the waters in the James River.

Chief Scientist of Water Defense Scott Smith refers to the site of the Lynchburg train derailment as “ground zero.” 

For obvious reasons, that site has the largest concentration of crude oil.

You can see oil on the ground, the banks, and the tree line at the site.

With 50,000 gallons of crude oil unaccounted for, Smith is working to find out how much actually went into the James River

Smith points out that protective booms were not placed in the water until 24 hours after the spill. With the current traveling between 5 and 10 miles an hours, Smith says at this point, it is impossible that the oil is fully contained.

"How can anybody say that the spill is contained when you can see the oil line all the way down the banks of the river and flowing down the river?” Smith said.

The oil line is obvious along the banks.

The team went out to collect samples on the river just after day break. They documented their trip, and recorded an alarming amount oil on vegetation, soil and along the river bank.

Smith developed a new material known as “OpFlex”, and strings it through the water.  It absorbs any oil, and oil related chemicals in the spongy material which is then stored in a glass jar for further testing.

 They have pulled quite a bit out of the area. 

In the long term, it may give them a better gage of how much oil spilled into the river

  After receiving clearance from officials, WSLS was scheduled to go back on the boat with Smith and his team, however, upon arrival WSLS discovered that plans had changed.

 Smith says shortly after he was taking water samples our trip got shut down.

Despite multiple boats which have traveled on the river in that same area since the accident, government officials informed Smith’s guides that the waterways were closed.

"We are confused, because the state officials and the local officials will come out and say that there is no impact on the environment, the water is fine,” Smith said.  “Then, we are told that even though this is public, our access has been blocked because there are chemicals in the water."

Smith’s early assessment estimates that at least 20,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into the James River.  He believes the spill could impact waterways as far as 150 miles downstream in Richmond.

Lynchburg officials say the city’s drinking water has gone unharmed. Richmond officials, however, are taking precautions.

Smith’s test results may take several weeks to get back. WSLS will follow up with his investigation as more information is available.

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