Cleanup in Progress on Spill in Boulder Creek

Published: Dec. 9, 2008

City of Boulder news release

The city of Boulder, the University of Colorado (CU) and the Boulder County Public Health Environmental Emergency Response Team are monitoring a spill of an oil-like substance into Boulder Creek near a low-level parking lot located north of Folsom Stadium and west of Folsom Street.

The spill occurred on Friday when a contractor for CU working at the University Memorial Center (UMC) accidentally cut a pipe used to circulate heated oil under a ramp leading to the loading dock. An estimated 25 to 30 gallons of oil from the closed-loop system went down a UMC storm drain that runs into Boulder Creek. The contractor did not notify anyone about the Friday accident. The source of the spill was identified by CU on Monday. The closed-loop system was used to heat the steep ramp and keep it free of ice during the winter.

The potential downstream impacts are unknown at this time; however, there have been no visual impacts observed to wildlife or vegetation nearby.

CU-Boulder Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department personnel responded to the scene shortly after 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 5. EH&S placed booms in the creek to contain and also absorb the substance and Boulder Fire provided equipment to contain liquid coming from a nearby storm drain, which was believed to be the probable source. It was unknown at the time what the substance was that had spilled.

EH&S personnel returned to the scene on Saturday and arranged for pumper trucks to remove as much as possible from the spill area, put in fresh booms and also placed absorbent pads or "liners" on the water's surface to absorb more liquid. The spill was estimated to be 90 percent contained on Saturday. EH&S personnel returned on Sunday to put in new booms and place new liners in the spill area.

On Monday, samples of the spill substance were collected by Boulder Fire and taken to Seagate Technology, in Longmont, for analysis. The material was identified to be a type of lightweight, nontoxic oil. EH&S then was able to determine at noon on Monday that the oil originated from the loading dock at the UMC.

"We appropriately devoted a good deal of time and resources tracing the source of the spill, in addition to taking immediate steps to contain and clean it up," said Frank Bruno, CU-Boulder's vice chancellor for administration. "Our relationship with the environment is a very important value to the University of Colorado at Boulder."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the spill site in Boulder Creek was fully contained but cleanup was not completed. More vacuuming of the creek site may be ordered this week and the drainage system also will be cleaned of any remaining oil by flushing a solution down the pipe and capturing it at the end.

"Our EH&S staff have worked in partnership with Boulder Fire throughout this event, and we appreciate Boulder Fire's responsiveness and diligence. We continue to value our partnership with Boulder emergency responders," Bruno said.