Mystery spill on US river affects geese and other waterfowl

In February 2016, Tri-Sate Bird Rescue and Research cleaned over thirty birds, most of them Canada geese, after they were exposed to mineral oil that leaked from a Virginia power station.

The birds were transported from the Potomac River and adjacent Roaches Run Wildfowl Sanctuary to Tri-State Bird Rescue’s dedicated oiled wildlife response facility. The Coast Guard reported twenty-one additional birds dead as a result of the spill.

Mineral oils are a refined petroleum product. They are generally less toxic than other petroleum products when ingested, but these medium weight oils coat bird feathers and prevent them from flying well. They also disrupt the birds' ability to maintain normal body temperature.

The source of the sheen seen on the Potomac River near the US capital of Washington, DC was not determined for several weeks while the Coast Guard awaited test results. Independent testing by Dominion Virginia Power confirmed that the oil came from one of their utility substations, where 13,500 US gallons of mineral oil spilled in late January. The company will be required to cover any costs for cleanup and wildlife response.

Since mid-February there have been no further oiled birds found, and no new sightings of the oil sheen.


Delaware’s Tri-State Bird Rescue decontaminates geese after Potomac oil spill. online 19 February 2016

Potomac oil spill came from Dominion, utility admits. The Washington Post. Accessed online 22 February 2016