100 pounds oily waste cleaned up on Tower Road Beach

Source of spill still unknown; also found in Lewes
January 26, 2021

About 100 pounds of oily waste, comprising mostly sand, was removed from Tower Road Beach Jan. 20, state officials said, as clean up of the oil spill first reported Oct. 19 in Broadkill Beach continues.

Rain and wind had uncovered oil residue by the dune line on the north end of Tower Road, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control State Emergency Prevention and Response Chief Jamie Bethard said.

Residents also reported more oily debris had washed ashore on Lewes Beach Jan. 21.

Contractor Lewis Environmental returned to remove the oil, Bethard said. The source of the spill has not yet been identified.

In October, Bethard said he knew more oily residue would reappear as sands shifted and uncovered remnants of the spill. 

Right now, he said, the oil has hardened and looks like asphalt, and can be confused with black sand or marsh mud that has floated ashore. Marsh mud looks like oil, but if you break it in half, it looks like gray clay, Bethard said.

“Next summer, when the beach gets hot, it will get softer and stickier,” he said. “Hopefully, nature will continue to degrade it.”

Beachgoers can put small pieces in the trash, Bethard said, and can call DNREC’s 24-hour on-call Environmental Emergency line, at 800-662-8802, if oil the size of a dime or larger is spotted. Clean-up crews will not be called for one dime-size tarball; a significant amount must be present, which Bethard said can be hard to quantify.

“But if you believe it needs cleaning up, call the number, take a photo and put a pen or dollar bill by it so we can size it, we can figure out how big the pieces are,” he said. “It helps the coordinators get an idea of what they’re looking at.”

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