Cahokia Creek

Local wildlife and biodiversity may be impacted for a long time after a recent oil spill in Cahokia Creek near Edwardsville.

A crude oil leak from a Marathon pipeline caused about 163,800 gallons of oil to spill into Cahokia Creek on March 11. Cleanup crews have been working since the leak was reported and, according to Marathon Petroleum, approximately 8,060 cubic yards of oil-saturated soil has been removed for proper disposal.

As cleanup crews work to remove the pollutant from the area, it has become clear that the spill has impacted local wildlife. Nearly 40 animals have been impacted by the oil spill, and, according to a Marathon statement on March 25, 24 of them have died.

While local specimens can be seen and rescued or counted, the oil spill will impact the entire ecosystem because of the effects of the crude oil on soil health and the food chain, experts say.

Chris Theodorakis, an environmental science professor, said it would affect biodiversity and the functioning of the stream ecosystem.

“The oil may kill off some of the benthic organisms, the little bugs and worms in the mud. They might be affected the most, which could affect the entire stream ecosystem,” Theodorakis said.

Theodorakis said another concern is the young animals and eggs that will be hatching soon. They remain in the shallow areas, which is where the oil may remain for a good amount of time. Theodorakis said the oil has chemicals that are phototoxic, meaning that when they are exposed to UV rays, the chemicals photosynthesize into toxic forms.

“The sunlight doesn’t penetrate very deep. [Young fish] stay near the surface and the very shallow areas where UV rays from the sun might be able to penetrate down there and activate these chemicals, these hydrocarbons from the oil,” Theodorakis said.

Zhiqing Lin, a biology and environmental sciences professor, said another organism that could be heavily impacted by the oil is the algae that grows along the rocks and is the base of the food chain for aquatic systems.

“There are some kinds of algae that can grow on rock, in a slow-flowing water system, and then those are very important in terms of the food chain,” Lin said. “Oil [covering] those rock or plant surfaces will affect the whole food chain. We call it magnification of pollutants for the food chain.”

A local wildlife rescue, Treehouse Wildlife Center, in Dow, Illinois, has been part of the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, but they declined to comment.

Marathon has promised to cover all expenses associated with wildlife rescue relating to the spill.

Hannah Flath, the communications coordinator for Sierra Club Illinois, said the Illinois Attorney General’s office has filed a lawsuit against Marathon, which is meant to hold the company accountable for the oil spill. Flath said the Sierra Club is working to make sure Marathon is not only held responsible for the short term effects, but the long term damage as well.

“They are being held responsible for cleanup and corrective action in the weeks that have followed, but we do know that oil spills can cause long-term damage as well,” Flath said. “It’s often not until the sort of the immediate reaction and public outrage dies down that those long-term effects are even really revealed to the public. We want to make sure that that is being accounted for as well.”

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