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How are people feeling 5 years after the nation's worst inland oil spill?

Jul 24, 2015

On July 25, 2010 at 5:58 p.m., Enbridge's Line 6B split open in a wetland near Marshall, Michigan.

The break was not discovered for 17 hours. During that time, with the pipeline split open, Enbridge controllers in Alberta restarted the system twice, thinking they had a pressure problem in the line.

Their choice to restart a broken line is what led to the nation's worst inland oil spill. Estimates put the spill at more than 840,000 gallons. The EPA says more than 1 million gallons of oil were recovered. An investigation found that 81% of the spilled oil was a result of restarting those pumps.

The oil flowed through Talmadge Creek and into the Kalamazoo River, contaminating close to 40 miles of waterway.

The clean up was expensive, and has taken a lot longer than officials expected.

5 years later

Just about everyone we spoke with remembered the overpowering smell of noxious vapors in the air. People in the area self-evacuated, and some never came back.

But for most of the people we talked to in Marshall, life has returned to normal.

Scroll through the photos above to see how people are feeling 5 years later.

A farm lost

We started the slideshow with Frank Zinn.

His grandfather's farm was in the family for more than 100 years. Zinn says his grandfather cared deeply about the land, and the family had plans to turn their 440 acre farm into a LEED certified vineyard.

Those plans changed overnight on July 25, 2010 when the pipeline spilt open around 200 feet from their farm. The resulting oil spill flowed into Talmadge Creek and across their farm. Enbridge took over a chunk of their land as the staging site for the cleanup.

As Zinn explains here, the oil pipeline is something his grandfather never wanted in the first place.

Zinn and many others say the system failed them.

Enbridge was aware of cracks in the pipeline five years before the spill happened, but they never addressed the problems, and regulators never forced them too.

Five years on, company officials say the spill changed how they operate. But even after this record-breaking spill in Michigan, pipeline spills across the country continue. Critics argue the "ineffective oversight" also continues.

*Editor's Note: Enbridge Energy is a financial supporter of Michigan Radio.