East Lyme — Steve Gephard, senior fisheries biologist for the state Department of Environmental Protection, returned to Latimer Brook Tuesday morning to reassess whether the diesel-fuel spill from Friday's six-vehicle accident on Interstate 95 was affecting fish and other wildlife.
“There's still a pretty good sheen on the brook,” Gephard said.
Because of the rainfall Tuesday, he said, fuel that was trapped in a storm drain and a catch basin is now being flushed into the brook. DEP crews, which had considered the cleanup virtually finished on Monday, returned to the scene to help its contractor, who had remained on site, to recover the fuel pouring into the brook.
An estimated 4,000 of the 9,000 gallons spilled from the tanker truck involved in the accident reached the brook.
The DEP emergency response team and the contractors are checking the absorbent booms placed in the brook to catch the fuel and scooping up fallen leaves that have collected in the brook and are now soaked with fuel, Gephard said.
Thus far, he said, effects on wildlife appear to be minimal. Fish must have swum out of the way of the spilled fuel or are burrowed into the streambed for the winter. He remains concerned, though, about the sea-run brown trout that are expected to swim into the brook from Long Island Sound and the Niantic River for spawning in the next few weeks. If the trout detect an oily odor, they will probably forgo Latimer Brook and swim into Oil Mill Brook or Jordan Cove instead, he said.
“They've got options,” he said. “I think the effects will be minor and short-lived.”
The DEP maintains a fish ladder just upstream from the spill site and stocks the brook in the spring with brown and rainbow trout. Alewife also swim into the brook in spring for spawning.
Gephard said the DEP will monitor the alewife and other fish in the brook next spring to determine whether there are any residual effects from the spill.
About 100 tons of contaminated soil was removed from along the interstate, said Rachael Sunny, a DEP spokesperson. She said it is expected that most of the fuel in the soil that cannot be removed will move through the soil and the culvert and into the brook. The best thing for the brook, she said, would be more rain to raise the stream level and flush the fuel as soon as possible.
At this point, she said, there is no danger that the fuel could ignite if exposed to flame.
Day Staff Writer Julie Wernau contributed to this report.