Hamilton said the EPA will conduct another survey of the submerged oil in the spring, which could alter the dredging plan. But he doesn't expect the oil to move much over the winter because the river is running low after a severe summer drought and there's been little rain over the past few months.
Long-Term Effects Unknown
As the EPA struggles with the cleanup, Michigan authorities continue to assess the spill's impacts on human and environmental health.
Wesley, the fisheries expert, said little is known about how bitumen will affect the aquatic ecosystem. Most of the impact would be on mussels, insects and other macroinvertebrates, he said, and any problems they experience would in turn affect the rest of the food chain.
"This was a really heavy crude, and huge volumes were put into the river," Wesley said. It's "very unusual."
Michigan's Department of Community Health determined last year that contact with submerged oil could cause skin irritation but no long-term health effects. The agency is still studying the health risks posed by the chemicals that evaporated into the air after the spill, as well as the risks of eating fish from the river.
Deb Miller, the Ceresco resident, said concerns about the spill's long-term effects forced her and her husband to close their carpet store on Nov. 30 and accept Enbridge's offer to buy selected properties along the river.
"I sold the property back to Enbridge, at a loss, because I don't know what the future holds," Deb Miller said. "At 60 years old, I can't take the chance at staying at a property that may be contaminated…I pray no other community has to go through what we did."