Friday, September 13, 2013

A Stupid, Ugly Way to Die

(Cindy Russell/Star-Advertiser)
In December 1985, the oil tanker Arco Anchorage went aground near Port Angeles spilling 239,000 gallons of Alaskan crude oil. That and the industry’s record of oil spills in marine waters have made oil spill prevention a top Salish Sea priority. Alas, this past Monday, Matson Navigation spilled an estimated 233,000 gallons of molasses from a broken pipe into Honolulu Harbor, sinking to the bottom and suffocating sea life.

Matson, which regularly loads molasses to be shipped to the mainland, had no spill prevention plan and was not required to have one by the state.

“To my knowledge, nothing of this magnitude on Oahu ever in the past” has occurred, said Gary Gill, the state Department of Health’s deputy director for environmental health, according to the Star-Advertiser.

Over the few days since the spill, thousands of fish have died and the magnitude of the damage isn’t known. Fish die-off is expected to accelerate and a ‘dead zone’ created that may last for months. No recovery of the spilled molasses is underway since, unlike oil, the molasses isn’t floating but has sunk to the harbor bottom.

University of Hawaii oceanography professor David Kari said recovery would come about sooner than from an oil or toxic chemcial spill. A “smorgasbord of bacteria” will feed on the sunken molasses. And, according to Gary Gill in the Star-Advertiser, the spill also threatens a coral colony in the area.

A Matson senior executive said they were “truly sorry” for what happened. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife agency is collecting its evidence. Clean Water Act violations can be assessed up to $25,000 a day.

“Anywhere where you might have a sugar industry which is loading molasses as part of the sugar refining process onto ships, there’s a potential for this kind of spill,” Gill said, according to the Star-Advertiser report.

So, where was the diligence? Here is an operation that a company does regularly over water and, while it isn’t in itself as toxic as oil, molasses turns out to be just as deadly when sunk and coating the harbor bottom with 1,400 tons of sweet death.

What an ugly way to die for people’s stupid negligence.

(Sources: Underwater video uncovers mass kill from Matson molasses spill ; Molasses spill killing fish in Hawaii ; Star-Advertiser coverage may be behind a paywall: Molasses damage predicted to linger )

--Mike Sato

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