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Workers Race To Save Birds After Mysterious Chicago River Oil Spill

By Joe Ward | October 27, 2017 1:02pm | Updated on October 30, 2017 8:33am
 Workers arrive Friday at the Chicago River.
Workers arrive Friday at the Chicago River.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

BRIDGEPORT — An oil spill on the Chicago River forced clean up crews to try to catch birds and other animals contaminated in the mysterious oil spill that blanketed the waterway near Bubbly Creek with a black sheen, according to officials.

A mile-long oil spill was spotted Wednesday near Bubbly Creek — the stretch of the river near the Eleanor Street Boathouse at 2828 S. Eleanor St., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed.

Containment booms were dispatched to the river, and crews worked for days after to clean up the mess.

The source of the oil spill has not yet been determined, though it has been contained to the area near the boathouse, Rachel Bassler, spokeswoman for the EPA, said Friday. There is no estimate on how long cleanup will take, she said.

The spill covered geese and other birds in a black substance and caused the closure of the boathouse's path near the river. A temporary construction fence has been erected around the walkaway, and the park's dock, and crews with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services were working to wrangle the contaminated birds.

"It's frustrating because they keep flying out," said Edward Karecki with the fish and wildlife service. "They'll come back, feed. Maybe we'll get another chance."

Crews work to clean up a mysterious oil spill at the Eleanor Street Boathouse, 2828 S. Eleanor St. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]

Birds the agency are able to catch will be brought to the city's animal control shelter. From there, conservation nonprofit Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation will pick the birds up and work to decontaminate them, said Dawn Keller, director of the group.

The contaminated birds were seen picking at their feathers, and others were reluctant to move even when the rest of the group did. Heller said the oil weighs down the birds, and that the birds' picking their feathers only makes the situation worse. Ingesting the oil can be more deadly, and picking can leave the birds without insulation during the winter.

"It completely is going to depend on how long they have [been covered in oil] and how much," Heller said. "Hopefully we can save them."

Heller and her group will give the captured birds a binding agent that could allow them to pass the ingested oil without dying. Then they'll have a multi-step decontamination project including cleaning them with dish soap, she said.

"We have seen it before," she said of oil spills in urban areas. "We'll give them their best chance."

Crews work to clean up a mysterious oil spill at the Eleanor Street Boathouse at 2828 S. Eleanor St. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]