Warehouse Fire Causes Oil Spill in Baltimore Harbor

Photo: USCG Petty Officer First Class Andrew Kendrick

A warehouse fire in East Baltimore Thursday night caused an oil spill into the Inner Harbor, prompting a rapid response by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

The oil spill happened just a day before the Baltimore Floatilla, in which 300 kayakers and paddlers will navigate around the Harbor in support of clean water.

The four alarm fire happened overnight Thursday into Friday at a mattress factory on East Monument Street.

MDE first noticed oil discharge from the fire washing into storm drains, then tracked it to the place where the Jones Falls meets the harbor, between President Street and Pier Six. They called in the Coast Guard’s pollution team.

“The flow of the water is bringing the oil to us, so that’s in our benefit,” said Chief Petty Officer Sean Devine, an on-site pollution responder. “It will eventually all end up here — how long that takes depends on how much oil has been released, that we don’t know about, and how much could potentially leave the source.”

The site of the spill happens to be right where Baltimore’s “Mr. Trash Wheel” collects litter and debris. The trash wheel actually helped contain the oil. “The boom surrounding the Mr. Trash Wheel at the mouth of the canal contained a significant amount of the pollution before responders arrived,” explainso a U.S. Coast Guard release.

Both MDE and USCG pollution responders deployed sorbent material, and contracted Miller Environmental Group to contain the pollution. MDE says the spill is officially contained.

Miller, MDE, and the Coast Guard, are all investigating the specific source of the spill.

Meanwhile, Saturday morning brings the 4th annual Baltimore Floatilla, a paddle from the Canton waterfront to a floating rally at the Inner Harbor, where clean water advocates will call for water restoration funding. Paddlers will have to steer clear of the oil spill site:

“Administration officials are in communication with the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore and organizers of the 4th Annual Baltimore Flotilla to advise kayakers and others to stay away from the affected area while responders continue their work,” MDE says in a press release.

-Meg Walburn Viviano