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Barge that collided with Texas bridge released up to 2,000 gallons of "environmentally toxic" oil, officials say

Investigation underway after fuel barge hits Galveston bridge
Investigation underway after fuel barge hits Galveston bridge 01:07

The 321-foot barge that collided with a bridge in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, halting traffic on the causeway and in the intercoastal waterway, is also believed to have spilled up to 2,000 gallons of oil, officials said on Thursday. The true total of the spillage, however, has not yet been determined. 

The barge, named MMLP-321, collided with the bridge Wednesday morning after officials said it broke loose and drifted into the structure. Nobody was injured, but the damage was costly. Video shows part of the train trestle on the bridge collapsed while the vessel also unleashed an oil spill. 

Officials did not know at first how much oil had been spilled but said the barge holds 30,000 gallons of oil. On Thursday, Capt. Keith Donohue of the U.S. Coast Guard said officials are "pretty confident there was much less oil introduced to the water than we initially estimated." 

Photos released by the Coast Guard show thick oil sitting on top of the waterway. 

A photo of the area where the barge Lance Corporal allided with the Sea Wolf Parkway Bridge in Galveston, Texas, May 15, 2024. The U.S. Coast Guard is coordinating with local, state, and federal agencies in response to the Sea Wolf Parkway Bridge allision. U.S. Coast Guard

"We're estimating between 1,000, 2,000 gallons, but we will not have details on that until we get a final survey from the vessel," he said. "We have over 200 people actively working on this response right now." 

As of Thursday afternoon, he said that over 600 gallons of oily water mixture had been recovered, as well as more than 5,600 gallons of oil product that was at the top of the barge, but that he said did not go into the water.   

The product that spilled into the water is specifically vacuum gas oil, which is a "darkly colored, thick waxy liquid with a heavy fuel oil odor," according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. 

"If released, prevent entry into ditches, sewers, and waterways. Small amounts of this product, if aspirated into the lungs, may cause mild to severe pulmonary injury," a fact sheet from the department states. "This product may be irritating to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system."

If heated vapors of vacuum gas oil are ingested or inhaled, it could also cause headaches, sleepiness, dizziness, slurred speech and blurred vision, the department says, and "may cause skin cancer." It's also considered "environmentally toxic and damaging on contact with plants, birds, and water mammals." 

An incident map from the Pelican Island Bridge Allision Response website shows the area impacted by a runaway barge that collided with a bridge in Galveston.  Pelican Island Bridge Allision Response

Texas Parks and Wildlife, which is also responding to the incident, said Thursday that game wardens with the state are assisting in securing the scene. The Kills and Spills team will continue to monitor and assess, they said, adding that Galveston Island State Park, which is on the opposite end of Pelican Island, "has not been affected." 

The Pelican Island Bridge Allision Response website, which was set up by federal and state agencies to help share information regarding the incident, has a page dedicated for reporting injured or oiled wildlife. The public has been asked not to handle any animals they come across, and instead report them to 832-514-966 for trained professionals to respond.

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