EPA Assesses Environmental Disaster in Kansas: Significant Contamination from Oil Spill

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Coffeyville, KSThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mobilized to respond to an oil spill at the Coffeyville Resources Refinery, which has spread throughout the region during rampant flood conditions.

EPA agents have been collecting air and water samples to determine the level of contamination, as thousands of residents remain unable to return to their homes due to concerns about toxicity from the spill.

Kansas oil spillWater Unsafe
Several counties in the region have been declared FEMA disaster areas. Coffeyville officials have reported that all water will have to be decontaminated before it is safe to drink. Bottled water is being shipped in for area residents.

"As of right now, we don't have a full assessment of the extent of the contamination," said Dave Bary, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency Bary said. "Quite a bit of [the oil] remains on the surface and is visible.

"Oil on the surface tends to adhere to whatever it comes into contact with -- vegetation, soil, buildings and other properties."

Health Concerns for Region
Following the refinery spill, more than 40,000 gallons of oil was released. Carried by floodwaters, it covered everything in its path and now remains, coating lawns and streets in black sludge as the floodwaters recede. The oil has also floated down river to Oklahoma and Texas, said Bary.

"We do have health concerns," said Bret Glendening, city manager in Osawatomie, Kansas. "You've got stagnant water. The water's been into the wood. You have mold issues. There's a whole host of concerns flooding causes."

"All our utilities are under water," Fredonia Mayor Max Payne added.

Search teams continue to scour the area for survivors. On Thursday, a man found dead in a Coffeyville motel room was the disaster-related fatality. Rescuers have also recovered several dogs, their fur covered in sticky, dark oil.

Environmental Devastation
Critics contend that the oil refinery, which is owned by CVR Energy Inc. (a unit of Goldman Sachs and the Kelso Funds), did not take adequate steps to secure its facilities, despite warnings about the impending floods.

"My question is how are they going to get all that oil out of the environment," said Mary Burge, a heart surgery patient who was forced to breathe from her portable oxygen tank due to petroleum odors.

An official with the EPA in Kansas City summed up the oil refinery's mess: "Honestly, it's pretty large. It's pretty ugly."

Residents and Workers Concerned
Officials are recommending that residents stay out of the area. Some residents and emergency service workers who went into the flood zone allegedly became ill and reported suffering from rashes and diarrhea.

"I would hope that we learned from 9-11 and Katrina," said one occupational health-and-safety expert. "I hope that safety crews and residents are being properly informed about the safety measures to take," to ensure their health in the oil spill's aftermath.

"But the reality is, we still have a long way to go in terms of disaster response."

Kansas Oil Spill Legal Help

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