Five years ago, a pipeline carrying crude oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in Michigan, spilling over 1 million gallons into the Kalamazoo River in what would become the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
"The Kalamazoo River still isn't clean," Anthony Swift, director of NRDC's Canada Project, told OnEarth. "The EPA reached a point where additional cleanup might do more harm than good. Much of the river is still contaminated."
To Chris Wahmhoff, who grew up a mere 100 yards from the Kalamazoo River, the fifth anniversary... [is] just another step in the long fight to hold Enbridge accountable for the damage they caused. Wahmhoff remembers playing in the river nearly every day as a child — an avid kayaker, the river was an integral part of his life until the 2010 spill, when residents were told to stay away.
"All of us on the ground, we definitely embrace the idea that we've been the canary in the coal mine," Wahmhoff said. "We want everyone to understand not just that there was an oil spill and not just that those chemicals make people sick, but that [oil companies] don't do a good job of protecting the community or informing the community about what dangers they face."
When the pipeline — an aging structure owned by Canadian oil company Enbridge Inc. — first ruptured, it was the middle of the night on July 25, 2010. It took more than 17 hours for Enbridge to cut off the pipeline's flow, a delayed response compounded by the company's dismissal of alarms as a malfunction and attempts to fix the problem by pumping more oil into the pipeline. By the time the pipeline had been shut off, more than 1 million gallons of tar sands crude oil had spilled into the Kalamazoo River, impacting nearly 40 miles of the river and 4,435 acres of shoreline.