Petroleum spill on Ralston Creek in Iowa City likely from former industrial site

No dead fish, and oily sheen confined to one part of creek

A petroleum sheen can be seen on Ralston Creek in Iowa City on Friday. White booms, placed by the city, keep the polluta
A petroleum sheen can be seen on Ralston Creek in Iowa City on Friday. White booms, placed by the city, keep the pollutant from floating farther downstream. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is investigating, but officials think it may be linked to an former industrial site nearby. (Erin Jordan/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A historical industrial site or dumping near downtown Iowa City likely is the cause of a petroleum slick discovered Thursday on Ralston Creek, a state official said.

City officials placed a boom on the creek Thursday south of Burlington and Van Buren streets to try to keep the pollutant from further contaminating the water.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which is investigating the spill, has not seen any dead fish or other environmental impacts, but has taken water samples expected to be analyzed by next week, Ben Stracuzzi, DNR environmental specialist, said Friday.

Because the pollutant is floating on the surface and has an iridescent sheen, the DNR believes it is a petroleum-based product likely seeping out of the bank or the bed of the creek.

“It’s likely a result of some historical industry or dumping that was there,” Stracuzzi said. “We believe there is a responsible party that would be liable for the cleanup.”

The spill is near a federal superfund site, where Tri-City Railway and Light Company produced manufactured coal gas from 1857 to 1937, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Iowa-Illinois Gas and Electric Company ran a service facility there until 1971.

Other commercial uses continued until 1983, when a new owner demolished the remaining gas plant structures and built a 54-unit apartment. Oily wastes found at the site led to an EPA investigation in 2003. MidAmerican Energy removed the contents of an underground tank in 2004, and the air and water at the site have been tested since 2010, the EPA reported.


“No current exposures to the community from site waste exist,” the EPA noted in the report filed in October 2017.

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