With cause of Potomac sheen still unclear, group offers $1,000 reward

GREAT FALLS, Md. — Five days after a petroleum-based sheen was spotted on the Potomac River near Point of Rocks, Maryland, Mother Nature and preparation have kept the pollution out of local drinking water.

But officials are still unsure what caused the sheen, and a local environmental group is offering a reward to anyone who can get to the bottom of it.

The EPA is in charge of the investigation in to the sheen. As of noon Friday, the agency has not identified exactly what the product is, or how it got into the Potomac.

EPA spokeswoman Terri White told WTOP the agency is still investigating the source of the sheen.

“We expect to get sampling results back early next week,” she said in an email. “The results should, at a minimum, let us know what spectrum of oil is present.”

The local environmental group, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, is offering a $1,000 reward for information on who caused the spill.

“This is an environmental crime,” said the group’s Dean Naujoks. “We want answers and want to send a message that this won’t be tolerated.”

As of Friday, the sheen had not reached WSSC’s filtration plant in Potomac, which produces about 70 percent of the utility’s water.

With two days of rain, much of the sheen had dissipated before reaching intakes for the WSSC or Washington Aqueduct intakes, which are downriver.

The aqueduct processes water for the District, Arlington, and Falls Church.

Friday morning, contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency installed a yellow boom, to deflect the pollution from the Washington Aqueduct’s intakes at Great Falls.

With the plume approaching, the aqueduct closed its intake at Great Falls, and has been relying on its downriver intake, at Little Falls.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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