Cleaning up the olive oil

August 27, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

A person who broke into an East Baltimore company and opened a valve to a tanker holding nearly 6,000 gallons of olive oil caused a spill that marred the harbor's waters and could take days to clean, authorities said yesterday.

Baltimore police and state environmental officials believe someone broke into Pompeian Olive Oil Co. in the 4200 block of Pulaski Highway and opened the valve. It's unclear what the intruder's motives were, authorities said.

The extra-virgin oil ran from the plastic-lined steel container into a storm drain, flowing for two miles into the harbor near Boston Avenue and Linwood streets in Canton. Officials with the Maryland Department of the Environment said the oil was not toxic, though it could pose a danger to wildlife if it is not cleaned because it could reduce the amount of oxygen in the water.

The amount of oil that Pompeian - one of the biggest producers and distributors of olive oil in the United States - lost accounts for only about a quarter of its daily production, according to Frank Patton, the company's president.

In a statement released by Patton yesterday, he described the incident as an act of "malicious vandalism" and offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who provided information that would help authorities prosecute a suspect.

"An incident like this, [which] counters our best efforts, is greatly upsetting, and we will do everything possible to make sure there is no repeat occurrence," Patton said.

Alan Williams, director of emergency operations for the Department of the Environment, said the state agency was working with the Coast Guard, the city Fire Department and contractors to clean up the oil.

Williams said firefighters are having to open fire hydrants along the route and pour water into the drains to flush the oil so it can be trapped by cleanup equipment positioned along the waterfront.

The break-in and oil spill were discovered Saturday morning by a Pompeian employee who reported it to authorities, according to Agent Donny Moses, a police spokesman.

48,000

Approximate number of 16-ounce bottles the leaked olive oil would fill

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