Dunsmuir Historical Oil – Update #1

Oct. 1, 2021

A unified command continues to oversee operations for removing contaminated soil from historical fuel tanks at the Dunsmuir Railyard.

Fuel from the tanks had been seeping into the Upper Sacramento River since the early 1900s and the current plan is geared toward removing the threat of further seepage. To date, there has been no observed impacts to wildlife and no threat to public health.

This week’s operations have included the use of an excavator to remove oiled sediment from the river bottom and to place a layer of absorbent material on the river bottom, secured by mesh bags of rocks to prevent oil and sheen in the river. This week’s operations have also included installation of rock-filled dams to isolate water flow and to prepare for further in-river soil excavation.

A contractor on the project has also been periodically replacing absorbent materials in the area that have collected fuel from the surface.

CDFW-OSPR crews have been on-scene daily to monitor for wildlife impacts.

Agencies, Union Pacific Railroad to launch cleanup work to remove historic oil contamination

United States Environmental Protection Agency
California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Office of Spill Prevention and Response
California Regional Water Quality Control Board

Sept. 8, 2021

DUNSMUIR, Calif. – A unified command that includes state and federal agencies and Union Pacific Railroad will begin cleanup next week to remove contaminated soil from historic fuel tanks, which were first used to fuel locomotives in the early 1900s.

At the turn of the last century, the Dunsmuir facility (then operated by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company), was equipped with a steel tank with a capacity of 2.1 million gallons. The tank at that time held Bunker C fuel to power steam locomotives before it was replaced by a 200,000-gallon diesel tank in 1955.
Unknown amounts of both fuels have seeped into the soil, groundwater and the Upper Sacramento River, since the early 1900s.

Many attempts have been made over the last century to stop contamination into the river. Initial efforts in the early 1920s included construction of a 700-foot retaining wall and oil sump. In the decades that followed, more retaining walls, a skimmer system, and intercept trenches were built, as well as groundwater extraction and treatment systems, monitoring wells, and oil collection wells.

The property was purchased from Southern Pacific by Union Pacific Railroad in 1996. In the years that followed, Union Pacific Railroad transitioned away from fuel storage and fueling operations at the site. By 2003, most of these activities had ceased.

Current response activities stem from a citizen report of oil along the riverbank near the facility in 2018. As a result, a coalition of agencies including California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), and Siskiyou County Environmental Health was formed following the 2018 report. Union Pacific Railroad’s recent response actions included the installation of containment booms in the river and a barrier where the seeps were observed.

The coalition then transitioned to a unified command to develop a comprehensive plan for cleanup work. The unified command includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CDFW-OSPR, California Regional Water Quality Control Board, and Union Pacific Railroad. The California Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a Cleanup and Abatement Order to address site-wide contamination and discharge. Additionally, the EPA issued a Clean Water Act (CWA) Order to Union Pacific Railroad requiring response actions to remove the discharge or to mitigate or prevent the substantial threat of a discharge of oil.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR) has monitored the waterway and has not observed impacts to wildlife. Additionally, the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) assessed the river and recommended that the fishery remain open, after concluding that the situation did not reach the threshold of being a threat to public health.

Union Pacific Railroad is covering all costs associated with the cleanup. Operations led by the Unified Command will address the immediate discharge to the Upper Sacramento River, and cleanup activities for additional contamination are being overseen by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Members of the public are strongly encouraged to avoid the area during cleanup operations, as there will be containment booms and other apparatus in place.