Oily sheen visible in Houston bayou after massive jet fuel spill

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Cleanup of what is believed to be the largest jet fuel spill in Houston's history has entered a second week, with portions of Sims Bayou "boomed" and oily sheen still visible in part of the bayou near I-45 and Howard.

Channel 2 Investigates has learned the Super Bowl Sunday spill at the Hobby Airport fuel storage facility involved a broken piece of equipment, which was designed to prevent such accidents.

Two sources, including an employee of Swissport, that manages the facility, said the safety equipment had been inoperative for months.

Swissport declined to comment Monday.    

At least 64,000 gallons of kerosene-based jet fuel came spilling out, hit a nearby drainage ditch and flowed into nearby Sims Bayou, threatening the Houston Audubon Society's Raptor Center, which houses birds and serves as an education center for the area.

"Just toxic levels of fuel, you could see the sheen on the water," said Mary Anne Weber, who is an education director for Houston Audubon.

Weber said the presence of wildlife has noticeably decreased since the jet fuel made its way to the rear of the Raptor Center's property, which bordered part of Sims Bayou's original path before it was rechanneled by excavation equipment.  

Booms and floating lines designed to catch contaminants were visible in at least two spots along the bayou just east of I-45 on Monday.

Weber said that she did not notice any dead wildlife in the area, and conditions had improved somewhat a week after the spill.

The city of Houston, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency are monitoring the progress of the cleanup.

We wanted to know who specifically is in charge of clean-up and who is monitoring that operation.

A City of Houston spokesperson offered this joint-department response:

"The spill and response is being handled by Southwest Airlines and its contractor, Swissport, as well as its contractor charged with the cleanup. Houston Airport System, Houston Public Works and the Health Department are working together to monitor and ensure proper cleanup.

"Several federal and state agencies, including the United States Coast Guard, Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are also monitoring the impact."

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