EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – Oil sheens have been discovered in several creeks in and around East Palestine since the Norfolk Southern train derailment earlier this month.
First News spoke with an environmental expert who specializes in chemical spills about whether or not a natural occurrence could cause the oil sheen.
“The rainbow sheen that you see on those news clips, that’s totally typical of oil in the stream,” said Dr. Robert Knox, presidential professor and director of the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science at the University of Oklahoma.
Knox says there are instances where natural factors could cause sheens in the water, but he says they look different.
According to the British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, most sheens caused by pollution are the result of petroleum products entering the environment.
Petroleum lube oil was listed as an oil that was on board the derailed train and one of the cars it was stored in lost an entire load, as well as several other cars that breached and leaked the oil.
Knox says the type of iridescent sheen seen in the creek lines up with a type of petroleum oil.
“The natural stream does not do that, and yes I’ve heard about, they say well it could be biological processes, no, if it can stir like they show on those videos, that’s oil filled contamination. How did that get into the stream?” Knox said.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, a good way to tell whether a sheen is from natural bacteria or oil is to use a stick to break it apart.
“A bacterial sheen will typically break into small platelets when disturbed while a petroleum sheen will quickly reform. Another way to tell them apart is by smell. Natural sheens don’t smell like petroleum,” according to the Pa. DEP.
First News went out and got video of water sheens from Leslie Run, which flows into several other streams before hitting the Ohio River.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said that chemicals from the train derailment have spilled into the Ohio River, which serves as a drinking water source for more than five million people.
Officials in West Virginia have said that the water has been tested and is safe to drink.
However, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website, “A harmful quantity is any quantity of discharged oil that violates state water quality standards, causes a film or sheen on the water’s surface, or leaves sludge or emulsion beneath the surface.”