SPCA getting oil-spill cleanup lab Education facilities included in project

June 17, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Imagine a barge running aground off Thomas Point, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Chesapeake Bay and coating vegetation and wildlife in the area for miles.

Anne Arundel County's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is preparing for such a disaster by building an oil-spill cleanup lab to care for wildlife caught in such an event. Using $200,000 in grants and private funding, the SPCA is developing the new center, to be called the Nature Center, which will include the oil-spill cleanup facility as well as exhibits and workshops that will educate students about the bay and the environment, David Branchini, executive director of the SPCA, said.

"An oil spill could be catastrophic," Branchini said. "You're dealing with a much more confined space than Alaska, where the Exxon Valdez spill occurred. We could have huge numbers of animals to deal with here because of that.

"We knew that if there was an oil spill here, regardless of whether we knew what to do or how to clean them, people would bring us animals," Branchini said. "It's only a matter of time before we have to deal with this. We want to be ready for when it happens."

Tri-state Bird Research and Rescue -- which is based in Wilmington, Del., and helped clean up the 1989 Valdez spill -- has helped planners for the Nature Center by suggesting building layouts and training curriculum. Builders are reconstructing vacant parts of the SPCA complex in Annapolis, and the center is due to open in the spring. The staff at the Annapolis complex has trained about 500 volunteers in such tasks as how to take a bird's temperature, how to feed animals and how to look for signs of birds in crisis after a spill.

The center will be able to treat 125 animals. It will include a room with 16 huge steel tubs for cleaning wildlife and another room equipped with heat lamps to bring the animals' body temperatures back to normal.

"Annapolis doesn't particularly need a facility, but the bay needs a facility like this," Branchini said of the complex. "Someone needs to know what to do when there's an oil spill."

Although oil tankers do not travel the bay, smaller barges carry oil, said Ellen M. Thayer, director of the future Nature Center.

A 1976 spill in the Potomac River near Virginia sent more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the bay and killed 10,000 birds. More than 200,000 gallons of oil spilled in the same area in 1988, Thayer said.

Spills like those cause significant damage and are hazardous to wildlife, she said.

The SPCA's center will eliminate the time needed for organizations such as Tri-state to come in and set up temporary cleanup facilities in warehouses when a disaster strikes, Thayer said.

"The quicker you can respond to the oiled wildlife, the higher rate of success you will have," she said. The likelihood of an oil spill is not known, but until one happens, the center will be used as an educational facility.

"What if there's never an oil spill?" Branchini said. "Even if it doesn't happen, the building will still be used daily for student tours, workshops and classes."

Pub Date: 6/17/96

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