Impact of on-campus diesel fuel spill felt around Berkeley

A sheen of diesel fuel could be seen on the surface of the creek water at Strawberry Creek Park Monday. Photos: Tracey Taylor

Update, 4:15 pm: Officials involved now estimate that 1,290 gallons of fuel were discharged into the environment outside of Stanley Hall out of a total of 1,700 gallons spilled inside the building. According to UC Berkeley, these calculations are based on estimated measurements of fuel that remain inside the UC Berkeley small generator tank and another portable tank.

Original story: A clean-up operation was still ongoing Monday morning after around 1,700 gallons of diesel fuel overflowed on the UC Berkeley campus Saturday evening, some of which was then channelled through sump pumps into Strawberry Creek which leads to the Berkeley Marina and the bay.

Local residents reported seeing and — even more — smelling the fuel in the creek.

Stacy lives on top of Strawberry Creek in West Berkeley. He said on Sunday morning the smell of fuel in his car, which had been parked overnight above the storm drain, was so strong he had to air it out while he searched the neighborhood for the possible source. “I never considered the creek to be contaminated,” he wrote on Berkeleyside.


Janet Gilmore, a spokesperson for UC Berkeley, said the clean-up so far has included vacuuming up diesel where it has pooled, and using absorbant pads along the creek. She said there is no estimate yet regarding the amount of fuel that made its way into the creek and into the bay, although the responding agencies hope to know more this afternoon.

Some of the fuel did make its way from the creek into the bay. A Coast Guard spokesperson told Berkeleyside two booms have been installed on the Bay at Berkeley Marina and that the run-off drainage system is being monitored closely.

A number of agencies met as a “unified command” Monday morning on campus to assess the damage, and plan the continuing response.

Booms in place in the creek at Strawberry Creek Park in west Berkeley on Monday morning at around 11:30 am

Mary Simms, spokesperson for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said a multi-agency crew is assessing the entire length of Strawberry creek today to “look at how clean up is going and, based on what they see, determine if additional plans need to be developed as part of final cleanup effort”. That group includes, she said, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast guard, the California Department of Fish and Game, local public works officials, and the contractors hired by UCB.

No wildlife impacts have been reported at this point.


The cause of the accident was equipment failure, but the reason for that is not yet known.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, a campus police officer noticed an off odor coming from Strawberry Creek, and employees from the campus’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety and Physical Plant-Campus Services investigated, according to UC Berkeley. They discovered that a diesel fuel tank in Stanley Hall had overflowed as fuel was being transferred from a larger nearby storage tank. The fuel in the tank is used to power an emergency generator for the building.

The Stanley Building, which was closed over the weekend because of the possibility of toxic fumes and potential for ignition, re-opened Monday morning in time to house on-campus examinations. Gilmore said the air quality had been tested and deemed safe.

Related:
Oil spill on campus: environmental impact being assessed [12.11.11]