COLUMBIANA - The source of a small amount of oil leaking into Mill Creek is continuing to elude city departments, who have been on the hunt since July.
Fire Chief Rick Garrity said it could be from a hole in an old underground oil tank near the corner of Union and Lisbon streets, a tank buried years ago under the former NRM Corp. building on Railroad Street where Compco Industries currently operates, or something else entirely.
"In the old part of town years and years ago I'm told there was a gas station at the corner of Union and Lisbon Street and nobody knows if those tanks were ever moved or not. There is a house sitting there now and there could be an oil tank sitting next to the house for all we know," he said.
He believes the gas station operated there in the early 1900s.
The department went to the creek on July 10 of this year after someone reported seeing what was described as an "oily sheen" on the water. The state Environmental Protection Agency was notified after the department could not pinpoint a source.
On July 23 there was another report of an oily sheen on the water near the Valley Golf Club. The fire department provided an oil boom and absorbent pads to clean up the product, which was pooling in a feeder stream, according to the reports provided by Garrity to City Council last week.
The EPA was again notified, and investigated along with fire and city personnel.
EPA spokeswoman Erin Strouse said Friday the agency investigated in July and August and also could not locate the source. The agency turned the matter back over to Garrity, who was advised to monitor the stream and report any additional problems.
She added that, to her knowledge, there have been no other reports since then.
Garrity said the oil only seems to be showing up during periods of heavy rain and the problem cropped up in prior years as well.
"We're still keeping an eye on it. It's difficult to find. When we get a big, big rain the storm sewers get full and it flushes it out. Trying to find it has been a bit of a challenge," he said.
He said the next time it rains the department plans go up and down Lisbon Street to see which manholes contain the substance.
He doesn't believe anyone is intentionally putting oil into the creek.
"We thought it was coming out of Compco, and it still might be from the old NRM building, and we asked them to do everything they could to clean up the situation," he said.
A lack of underground mapping from years before makes it difficult to determine if any old tanks are in fact stored there, however.
"We don't know and the people there right now don't know," he said.
The city has inspected its water lines using video cameras to see if oil is leaking into the water that way, he added.
While it has been enough to cause alarm by those seeing the sheen it is not enough to cause any problems.
"A tiny bit of oil can really look bad on water. It's just a floating sheen of oil and it hasn't caused any problems anywhere that we are aware of," he said.
A few years ago people reported seeing it in the area of Buffalo Road near Youngstown, and that was the worst case, he added.
So far this year the substance only extended to the area of the Valley Golf Club on Cherry Fork Road.