An overview shot of the oil spill under Walnut Street Bridge (Photo contributed by WRCB/Kate Smith)

By Kirsten Raper, News Editor –

An oil spill in the Citico Creek and the Tennessee River on Jan. 9 continues to create problems for both the city of Chattanooga and UTC’s campus.

Norfolk Southern has since taken responsibility for the spill, and is still trying to clean it up. The University Echo reached out to Norfolk Southern regarding the spill, but could not get a response.

However, Kate Smith from WRCB reported that in an email response from Norfolk Southern, the company said the are “making every effort to minimize the impact on Citico Creek and the Tennessee River” and that they are still investigating what exactly caused the spill.

Sean Richards, a professor of environmental science among other titles, said that the environmental effects will affect all organisms living in the ecosystem, but it will surely impact mammals and birds living in the water.

“Oil from the top can have a direct toxicity to mammals in the water,” Richards said. “It can weigh down their feathers, and if they ingest it from cleaning themselves that can lead to toxicity.”

Richards continued and said that this spill, while not as significant, will similarly mimic the environmental effects caused by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

A federal judge ruled in that BP was responsible for leaking 4.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In comparison, the oil leak in the TN River released 1,000 gallons.

“This was a relatively small spill, which still isn’t a good thing, but the effects will probably be short lived,” said Richards.

Also according to Richards, the determination of when the environment will no longer be feeling these effects depends on several factors.

“It depends on the quantity of oil spilled, the type of oil spilled and the climate,” Richards said. “Some oil will evaporate, some will be broken down by sunlight and some will sink, but ecosystems have bounced back from bigger spills.”

Some of the overflow oil rom the spill even leaked onto campus.

The oil spill has been inconveniencing for some organizations on campus, including UTC’s rowing team. The team practices on the TN River, and since the spill, they have not had as many opportunities to do so.

“In January and early February the UTC rowing program and the McCallie school rowing program try to practice on the water when weather is permitting,” UTC rowing coach Ryan Worth said. “We have had good weather many of the days that our access has been closed due to this spill, and depending how long it takes for them to clean it up it may bite into even more of our potential training time. Big picture, it hasn’t been a huge deal for us yet; but it has kept us from doing as much as we would have liked to.”

After the spill, the section of the Riverwalk between Scrappy Moore Field to the Boathouse was closed, but has since reopened.

When the spill first happened, Tennessee Water released a statement addressing whether or not Citico Creek residents should worry about their drinking water.

In the statement, the company said, “We responded immediately and feel confident that there is no threat to the drinking water supply.”

Tennessee Water also said that they are continuing to monitor the drinking water as the cleanup process continues.

It is unclear how long crews will be working to clean up the spill, but once the cleanup process is completely finished, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will lead an investigation into the cause of the spill. 


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