Black oil left for days draining into the canal

Published: Friday, 01 September 2023

I HAVE held back writing on this incident, both to allow my anger to cool and for CRT to act, writes Andrew Bailes.

Unfortunately neither outcome has been forthcoming, so I'll give you as objective an account as I am able, of the present environmental blight hitting the Grand Union Canal around and about Bulls Bridge Junction.

OilSpillDeep black slick of engine oil

On Sunday morning the canal was covered in a thick layer of diesel or petrol. It was drifting with the wind and the flow from upstream of Willow Wren Wharf. The berths at the moorings were immersed in a deep black slick of engine oil. CRT were contacted on their emergency line by one of the other moorers here. I had grown exasperated after five minutes of answerphone and hung up to report it to the Environment Agency instead. At least they pick up their phone.

Late on Sunday afternoon a CRT worker turned up and acknowledged both the deep pools of engine oil and the ongoing slick. He said he would look for the source. On Monday morning two different CRT workers arrived, also acknowledged the pollution and also set off to find the source.

Oil still flowing freely

On Monday afternoon I set out to identify the source for myself, there having been no evidence of any attempt to stop the leak. I found it at a silted-up basin a mile or so upstream of Bulls Bridge between the rail and road bridges at Hayes and Harlington Station. The oil was still flowing freely beneath the bridge there.

There was nobody attending the incident, so I phoned CRT again and gave them clear directions and another description of the spill. It seemed likely that the original source was one of the large waste oil containers used by the coach company which has a base there and which had tipped over in the high winds that weekend. It would be easy, I proposed, to stretch a boom under the towpath bridge and at least stop some of the waste oils from escaping.

Still sitting in an oil slick

Today is Thursday. We are still sitting in an oil-slick. Yesterday, having waited in all day Tuesday for any sign of CRT sending someone to assess or to attempt to clean-up the spill, I sent a couple of speculative emails.

I will paraphrase the reply I received, which stated that the source had been identified on Monday. Sunday's response having failed due to 'it getting dark'. This may seem a predictable occurrence, happening daily as it does, and one which the provision of a torch might have gone some way towards remedying.

The email continued to explain that the 'environmental team' had driven back and forth in their big boat a few times that day 'to break up the spill' and were now satisfied that there was little but 'rainbow sheen' left to show where the spill had occurred.

Fouth day of the spill

It was this that prompted me to contact CRT again. This time, despite the eyewitness evidence that could and should have been provided by the workers who had visited the site, I was requested to send photographs of the oil slick. I include two for your disgust. I sent them on Wednesday, the fourth day of the oil spill.

OilSpillCootThis morning, [Wednesday 31st August after no reply was forthcoming, I sent a slightly more tensely worded email. And still no reply. An hour later I sent a photograph of the poor oiled coot which had just wandered sickly past the boat.

A reply arrived more promptly this time, though I don't know whether that was on account of the bird or of my idle speculations about the kind of compensation that might be due for the conditions in which we have been living for five days, the environmental degradation, the likely damage to our boat's new blacking, and the complete failure of CRT to even acknowledge the problem.

No official communication

There has been no official communication whatsoever between CRT/Waterside Moorings and tenants at either site here since the oil spill occurred, excepting personal replies to emails and phone-calls. I have requested this wider communication during every contact I have had with CRT

As of 12.30 today, day five of the slick, I have been told that a 'contractor' had been contacted and 'should' be on site today. I then walked up to the source of the spill again, to reassure myself that CRT had at least addressed that, having noticed the flow of oil dwindle and then cease during Tuesday and early Wednesday morning.

I'd like to leave the punchline to your readers, if I may. So a simple question will suffice.

I had suggested, while on the spot, how easy it would be to stop the flow of the waste oil slick with a floating boom. On Monday I had seen some full gravel bags in the work boat as it plied its course 'breaking up the spill'.

What had the trust done?

What had the Canal and River Trust done to prevent the outflow of all that waste oil into the canal?

One word answers only, sent on a picture postcard. Please make it a pleasant one with lots of clean blue water...