Oil Spill in Michigan Still Affecting Town Two Years Later

Matt Pearce reports on the town of Marshall's road to recovery after a 2010 oil spill damaged the area's human and natural ecosystems, and describes how these long-term impacts should serve as a warning to other communities.

2 minute read

August 2, 2012, 7:00 AM PDT

By Emily Williams


The Kalamazoo River in Michigan was reopened at the end of June after a massive 2-year clean-up of the oil spill that occurred during the summer of 2010, affecting both the river and the Talmadge Creek. A moratorium of a "do-not-eat" order for fish was also lifted, signaling what health officials hope to be a return to normalcy for the community.

While the Department of Health insists that the water is now safe, others are still wary. Rita Chapman, who deals with clean-water issues for the Sierra Club's Michigan chapter, warns, "They say that only 40 miles of the river was affected, but do we know that? The Kalamazoo flows roughly 80 miles to Lake Michigan, and Lake Michigan provides drinking water for millions of people."

Adding insult to injury is the realization of the increasing "corporate and regulatory failures" which make these kinds of spills possible. Writes Pearce, "Government investigators concluded that the pipeline's Canadian owner, Enbridge Inc., knew about the crack that led to the spill five years before the accident. They also found that when the break did occur, employees mistakenly continued to pump oil into parts of southern Michigan."

Community members and visitors have begun making their way back to the water in time for summer, while others remain fearful of the long-term impacts of these types of spills. Says local resident Susan Connolly, "I hope other communities will learn how we've been impacted here in Michigan. There will be other spills. It's not a matter of if, but when."

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