Sunken Barge Possibly Polluting Lake Erie

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By: Elizabeth Miller 

Divers hope to make repairs Tuesday to a recently discovered barge that sunk on Lake Erie almost 80 years ago and is now raising environmental concerns.  That's because the vessel may still be holding part of its 100-thousand gallon cargo of oil it was carrying when it went down near Sandusky.  

Back in August, members of the Cleveland Underwater Explorers discovered a wreck they thought matched the description of the Argo. It was a barge travelling Lake Erie delivering oil in 1937.  The Argo ranked high on a 2013 list of ships considered to be an environmental threat due to the large amount of oil onboard.  David VanZandt, president of Cleveland Underwater Explorers, says their team was not looking for the Argo when they happened upon it.  "We kind of changed our mode of operations on how we handled this one because we knew the pollution sensitivity of it and everything else," says VanZandt.

Cleveland Underwater Explorers notified the US Coast Guard late last week after finding an oil sheen near the wreck.  Lieutenant Commander Anthony Migliorini of the Marine Safety Unit in Toledo says there are no threats to drinking water or wildlife, but says the public should stay away from the area where the Argo was found.  "The only immediate threats that we can identify are for any on-scene personnel, and that would be inhalation hazards," says Migliorini.  

"That's why we established this 1000-ft. safety zone around the area, because that's our primary threat is for the safety of the public."

Finding the leak may prove difficult due to the oil's properties – it is colorless and evaporates.  But Migliorini says the Coast Guard is planning to patch Argo's Hull and continue testing local waters. 

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