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Coast Guard still searching for source of leak from sunken barge in Lake Erie

Tom Kowalczk
A side scan sonar image of the wreck. Tom Kowalczk with the Cleveland Underwater Explorers discovered this tank barge in August 2015.

The Coast Guard says it has not found any active oil leaks from a 78-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Erie. The wreck site is 12 miles northeast of Sandusky.

The tank barge is believed to be the Argo. Records show it was carrying about 100,000 gallons of crude oil when it sank. No one knows what's still on board, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the Argo to be the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

On October 23, a dive team with the Cleveland Underwater Explorers (the group that discovered the wreck) noticed a solvent-like smell in the air after they surfaced from diving on the barge.

The Coast Guard confirmed the leak, and launched an emergency response.

Lieutenant Ryan Junod is with the Coast Guard. He says a dive team hired by the Coast Guard, TNT Marine Salvage, completed its first assessment earlier this week. He says the hull of the barge seems to be intact, and the dive team found four open hatches on the barge, but none appeared to be leaking.

“The dive team was not able to locate or see anything actively coming out of the barge through the entire assessment,” he says.

Junod says water samples from the site show the leaking material was a light to medium petroleum product that was "significantly degraded." He says they’re now testing sediment samples before they take any steps to see what’s inside the barge.

"Moving forward, we have to make sure we're not going to disturb or cause more of a problem by attempting to move too quickly," says Junod.

He says the Coast Guard is doing air monitoring to make sure there are no risks to the response team.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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