As Pat Calvert steers a small motorboat over the James River, it’s impossible to not notice the smell of motor oil, and it’s not coming from the boat.
Two days after a CSX train derailed and put three tank cars full of crude oil into the river, Calvert, who keeps tabs on the Upper James River for the James River Association, is only beginning to survey the spill’s impact. Wednesday’s derailment spared the town from catastrophe, but not the river.
Much of the spilled crude burned in a spectacular fire on Wednesday, and the river, flooded from recent rains, washed the rest downstream toward the state capital, Richmond, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Floating orange barriers called boom had been placed in the water surrounding the derailment site to capture spilled oil, but they might have been too late to make a difference. Calvert said his organization had measured an oil slick 17 miles long.