My final piece on Hurricane Agnes and the damage caused by the massive oil sludge spill. This was one of the worst inland oil spills in United States history. There always seems to be a little controversy when I post something about it. So I spent the better part of 2 weeks doing research.
First the good: Roy Schurr opened his oil reclamation plant in 1939. He was a pioneer in this field. Vehicles were creating massive amounts of crankcase oil waste and it was generally just being dumped into streams, fields and sewers. Roy Schurr took several years to perfect the process of recycling the oil. Unfortunately, his process was not yet perfect. There was a remaining byproduct of sludge that could not be recycled. Roy Schurr stored this sludge in open lagoons situated between the Pennsylvania RR line and Route 724 in Douglassville (Union Twp). These football sized lagoons were believed to be positioned far enough from the Schuylkill River. Roy Schurr apparently did not purchase the land for this reason. This was once the family farm, creamery and slaughterhouse. It appears he simply inherited the land.
Now the bad: Roy Schurr's company, Berks Associates, was plagued with problems for 60+ years. Here is a timeline that makes it easier: - 1914: Fire burns down the Schurr Creamery Building (this was not oil recycling related0. - 1918: Fire burns the same building and it is later turned into a slaughterhouse (again, not related to oil recycling business) - 1939: The oil recycling business is opened and it immediately catches fire and 6 building burn. The fire was so massive that buildings as far away as Morlatton Village are damaged. - 1943: Oil seeping from large tanks catches fire from sparks created by a passing train on the Pennsylvania RR. This fire could be seen as far away as Pottstown. - 1950: 1200 gallons of oil explodes from a distilling shed and one employee is seriously injured. The blast blew out the windows of nearby homes. - 1957: 3 more explosions happen simultaneously from leaking 50 gallon drums. 7 fire companies fight the fire in which $250,000 in damage is done. - 1970: 3 million gallons of sludge enter the Schuylkill River from a failing lagoon wall after heavy rain. Water Treatment plants as far away as Claymont Delaware are forced to shut down. - 1970: Roy Schurr dies. Berks Associates continues under Lester Schurr. - 1971: Bankruptcy is filed. Massive fines are imposed. Lester Schurr agrees to buy a $240,000 sludge incinerator as Pennsylvania wants his business to continue in Douglassville. - 1971/72: The incinerator is delayed because of air pollution concerns . 1972: Hurricane Agnes floods the massive lagoons and it is estimated that 8 to 20 million gallons of sludge is washed downstream. Post 1972: This area becomes a superfund site and now can be seen from the Schuylkill River Trail.
Finally: Roy Schurr was a pioneer and provided a much needed service way before anyone thought it would be a problem. Sadly, the land that he inherited was too close to the Schuylkill River. ... See MoreSee Less
Thanks for this...there still is an oil stain on my Parents old house at the high level point on East Main Street...
Think it would have been shut down after agnes.i was buying recycled oil from them in the late 70s 10 cents a gallon.
I still lived in Pottstown and the oil left a coating on everything after the water receded. Then a few months later, I moved to union twp. and had water damage to clean up. Agnes was with me for a long,long time!
I remember very well when it all happened the whole area was a mess.
I grew up in Douglassville in the 70's and early 80's and I distinctly recall trees along 724 with no limbs or greenery below their crowns, years after Agnes. (Below the high-water line)My mother told me that they had been poisoned by things in the flood waters. I wonder if they ever had our well tested?
When we cleaned ,after the flood , the houses, were covered, inside and out , withthis black sludge. Everything had black level lines as the water receded. The floor was sludge and water ,which was pushed and shoveled away. You can imagine the black yuck on everything salvageable.
I was taking my oil change oil over to them, and I would buy lesser grade machine oil from them!
I recall the Superfund Site sign out front, along 724 into the 1990's.
Great history. I never knew...
Nice article. Very informative.
Yes, they tried to cover this up for years
I was there on the river bank with a shovel and 5 gallon buckets cleaning that mess up. I remember it like it was this morning.
Thank You. Very interesting!
Is there anything on that site right now? What is the exact address?