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UPDATE: Portage Canal, beaches reopen after gasoline tanker spill in Hancock closed them

The Portage Canal may reopen for recreational boating, fishing, and body contact swimming as long as the public avoids any areas with visible fuel sheen.
Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 12:50 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 25, 2021 at 4:47 PM EDT
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HANCOCK, Mich. (WLUC) - The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD), working in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), and the Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has updated the public health advisory for the Portage Canal following the recent fuel spill in the City of Hancock.

The Portage Canal may reopen for recreational boating, fishing, and body contact swimming as long as the public avoids any areas with visible fuel sheen. Sheen can be described as a rainbow-like discoloration on the surface of the water (like the images below). Sheen location may quickly change along with shifts in wind and weather.

Recreational use is not recommended for the following areas due to the current visible presence of fuel sheen:

  • Hancock Waterfront – Between the release site (below the Jutila Center) east to Mill Street and from the lift bridge east to the National Historical Park smelter site.
  • Houghton Waterfront – Directly across from the release site (below the Jutila Center) extending all the way east to Lake Street (near Super 8). This includes the Kestner Waterfront Park Beach area.

WUPHD advises that direct exposure of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract to fuel sheen can cause tissue injury and irritation; therefore, the public, including pets, should avoid swimming and recreation in these areas.

All other areas on the Portage Canal may reopen to body contact as long as no visible fuel sheen is present. Updates will be issued as additional information becomes available.

Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and...
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and Hancock on June 25, 2021.(Superior Search and Rescue)
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and...
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and Hancock on June 24, 2021.(Superior Search and Rescue)
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and...
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and Hancock on June 24, 2021.(Superior Search and Rescue)
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and...
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and Hancock on June 24, 2021.(Superior Search and Rescue)
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and...
Superior Search and Rescue image of the gasoline in the Portage Canal between Houghton and Hancock on June 24, 2021.(Superior Search and Rescue)

ORIGINAL STORY: The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD), working in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), is issuing a public health advisory for the Portage Canal near Houghton/Hancock.

This is due to a fuel spill that discharged to Portage Canal in Houghton County.

On the morning of June 24, a fuel tanker truck overturned on US-41 at Santori’s Corner in Hancock, and released gasoline fuel to the ground surface.

Fuel discharged to a storm drain that outlets to the Portage Canal.

The entire Portage Canal, including public access beaches and boat launches are temporarily closed for recreational boating and body contact.

The primary concern for public safety is exposure to benzene due to inhalation and skin contact. Affected residents near the spill site are being temporarily evacuated by emergency personnel due to safety concerns.

The public is encouraged to avoid the affected area at the spill site and to avoid the Portage Canal for any recreational use of the water such as boating or swimming.

People and pets should avoid direct body contact and avoid swallowing lake water in this vicinity, especially if fuel is visible on the water surface.

Do not use surface water for any drinking water purposes.

If you smell fuel, move away from the area.

This is an ongoing emergency situation. Updates will be issued as additional information becomes available.

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