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St. Marys oil spill prompts university to fast-track oil monitoring project

St Mary's River from space
NASA Johnson
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Michigan as seen from the International Space Station in 2011

It was a busy week for a research team at Lake Superior State University.

A day after the university released 27,000 salmon yearlings into the St. Mary’s River, 5,300 gallons of gear oil spilled into the river from the Algoma Steel facility.

The spill spurred the team to install four oil monitoring sensors into the river sooner than they had planned.

Kevin Kapuscinski is the assistant research director at the LSSU Center for Freshwater Research and Education. He said the spill created a “sense of urgency,” but the sensors are part of a larger project to create a monitoring network in the region.

“Oil in water is extremely difficult to contain, especially if there's any kind of weather wind events, or if you're in a flowing system like the St. Marys River,” Kapuscinski said. “That early detection, rapid response [sensors offer] is absolutely critical to capturing as much of that oil as possible.”

Kapuscinski said the sensors are active and he hopes they will eventually show data in real-time.

“I think once we have the oil sensors operating in such a way that we’re comfortable with the data - the data have been validated and the system is reliable, I imagine those will be publicly available as well,” he said.

LSSU said the salmon should be unaffected from the oil. The U.S. Coast Guard said the oil should dissipate, and the health advisory for the area has been lifted.