Science & Technology



Environmental groups grateful but vigilant after Key Bridge collapse

Christine Condon, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Science & Technology News

Officials from the Unified Command center overseeing the cleanup and rescue operation declined to specify the nature of the fluid, but said “the safety of first responders and protection of the environment is a priority” for the Coast Guard and the command center.

Crisis was averted by a combination of luck and design, said Stefano Brizzolara, a professor specializing in ship design in Virginia Tech’s aerospace and ocean engineering department.

Modern ships like the Dali, a Singapore-flagged vessel built in 2015, typically locate fuel tanks close to the engine room, which is situated toward the stern. Regulations dictate how far from the sides and bottom of the ship they can be placed, he said.

And since the ship’s bow struck the bridge, fuel wasn’t likely to escape, though pipes in that area carrying lubricating fluid may have been damaged, causing the sheen. And the strike also left the ship miraculously upright.

“It was a lucky accident for the ship. It could have been worse if it was maybe at mid-ship … on just one side,” Brizzolara said. “If large, watertight compartments were flooded with water, the ship could have healed on a side.”

While small leaks often dissipate quickly, Dennison envisioned the nightmare scenario — a massive fuel spill — when he heard about the wreck.


“It would have covered the entire Inner Harbor, Middle Branch, the marshes, the pilings, the floating wetlands that the National Aquarium is installing,” Dennison said. “Also, the tide would have gone out into the bay, and who knows how far. But presumably, it could have been devastating to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Of the 56 hazmat containers aboard the Dali, 14 were breached during the crash, according to Unified Command. All 56 were accounted for.

“The hazardous materials onboard that spilled from 14 damaged or destroyed containers were lithium metal batteries, soap products, perfume products, or not otherwise specified resin. There is no threat to wildlife,” read a statement from the command center.

“When you hear soap and perfume as potential contaminants, you worry about the soap. Soap can be not very healthy for the environment. So we definitely would be watchful if any of that soap or perfume came out of those hazmat containers,” Dennison said.


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