The USDA-SCS Plant Materials Science Center at Big Flats, New York, was damaged by flood-borne oil in June 1972.
Field plots were established in part of the damaged area to determine the effects of such contamination on soil properties and on crop production, and to assess the persistence of such contamination under northeastern conditions of soil and climate.
Field crops (corn, oats, and soybeans) have been used as major indicator crops. Crop yield data have been collected and compared to published estimated yields for the same area and soil resource. Soil samples have been analyzed annually to determine the quantities of oil remaining in the soil.
Greenhouse experiments have been conducted to determine a threshold level of economic damage, and the residual effects of such applications.
The results indicate that oil penetration was slightly below 24 inches; that the initial levels of oil contamination were relatively low (0.2% by weight, or less), but spectacular in appearance; that shallow rooted crops were less susceptible to damage by residual oil than deep rooted crops; that some residual effect was reflected in growth of both crop plants and weeds one year after contamination; and that light fuel oils may affect crop growth at relatively low application rates. These effects may be minimized by the proper choices of crop species and soil management practices (tillage and fertilization).
The results are supported by aerial photographs and field inspections of similar problem areas in the Big Flats area, made at one-year intervals.