The year is 1937: Ernest Hemingway is writing novels, the Hindenberg has exploded in a fiery wreck, and The Argo, a harbor barge from New York, sets out onto Lake Eerie. It never should have attempted the passage, having not been designed to withstand the storms of the Great Lakes, and it sinks not long after.
Over seventy years later the Coast Guard is alerted when a local diving team discovers the sunken barge. The water reportedly had an odor and sheen to it, hinting that there may be dangerous leakage in the wreck. It was discovered that the compound polluting the waters was a combination of benzene, toluene and xylene with trace amounts of petroleum known as benzol.
The discovery led to an emergency containment and cleanup effort that took two months, and involved thirteen different groups from state, federal, and Canadian agencies.
Tony Migliorini, Lieutenant commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit in Toledo said the clean up was complex due largely to the fact that it had taken so long to find the Argo’s wreckage. “We were working with a vessel that we really didn’t have a lot of information about. We didn’t have plans available for the Argo. We didn’t have a crew from a recent sinking. We were really working with a lot of unknowns.”
Another difficulty arose from the fact that benzol is a relatively unknown compound, having not been used for years since it was proven to be a carcinogen. The leak had also been developing for over seventy years, so how much was in the ship and how much was in the region had to be determined, as well as what dangers it posed to the environment.
At the end of the project, the wreck was cleaned and disposed of without any injury to personnel or any major environmental damage. The effort cost about $5.3 million dollars. The Oil Spill Liability Trust covered a majority of that amount, since it was impossible to force those responsible for the spill to pay for it as is normal for spills of this kind.
All in all, the Coast Guard was successful in aiding with cleanup efforts.