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Bubbly Creek Mystery Oil Spill

Site Contact:
Len Zintak


Site Location:
Chicago River
Mile Marker 321
Chicago, IL 60608
NRC#: 1184231

On October 26, 2017, EPA responded to an approximate 1.5-mile mystery oil spill on the South Fork of the Chicago River (a.k.a. Bubbly Creek). The oil spill extended from the pier of the Chicago Park District’s Boathouse at Park #571 on South Eleanor Street southward toward Bubbly Creek and westward through the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal (CSSC) to approximately California Avenue. Oil was also found in the inlet east of Ashland Avenue. Only pockets of oil were discovered on the CSSC.

December 2017 Update
EPA's response to the Bubbly Creek Mystery Oil Spill has concluded. EPA with the support of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the City of Chicago performed investigations to attempt to determine the source of the oil spill and try to identify a potentially responsible party (PRP). However, the agencies were unable to determine the source, the exact amount of oil spilled or the date and time of the spill. (One report stated that the spill may have occurred up to two days before it was reported to the agency.) The oil was identified as slightly weathered low-sulfur diesel fuel mixed with lubricating oil, samples of which were sent to a USCG lab for fingerprinting.

The area where the spill was sighted is in the vicinity of numerous potential sources: the Racine Avenue Pump Station – which collects water from multiple sewers over a 30-square-mile area, all potential points of entry for oil; four combined sewer outfalls on Bubbly Creek and the South Branch of the Chicago River; crossings such as Highway I-55, local roads and railways; industrial facilities; and other accessible areas to the water where illegal dumping could have occurred. When an oil spill in a waterway is not reported immediately it becomes mobile with the current and wind making conclusive investigations extremely difficult.

A total of 500 feet of containment boom, 3,640 feet of soft adsorbent boom and 62 bags of adsorbent pads (100 pads per bag) were used during cleanup operations. One Canada goose and one turtle impacted by the spill were able to be rehabilitated by Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center; but unfortunately one Canada goose, one seagull, one turtle and 43 fish died.