ST. LOUIS -- Anheuser-Busch Inc. ceased brewing and packaging operations at its largest brewery Tuesday because of concern that an oil spill moving down the Mississippi River could affect the quality of its brewing waters.
Andrew J. Steinhubl, senior vice president for brewing, said 2,000 brewing and packaging production employees would be idled indefinitely. The rest of the St. Louis brewery's 6,000 employees, including maintenance and utility workers, will remain on the job during the brewing shutdown.
'Our quality control systems are highly sensitive to changes in the content and aroma of the city drinking water used in the brewing process,' Steinhubl said, 'and we acted immediately to cease production when we detected a change.
'We have found nothing in our municipal water supplies which would suggest a health hazard,' he said. 'However, because of our commitment to the quality of our products and our responsibility to the consumer, we have chosen to temporarily curtail operations.'
Shell Oil Co. Tuesday was continuing its cleanup of the 336,000-gallon spill that occurred when a shell pipeline ruptured near Vienna, Mo., on Dec. 24, 1988, allowing the oil to flow into the Gasconade River. Missouri Department of Natural Resources officials called the spill the largest in Missouri's history. The oil flowed from the Gasconade into the Missouri River and eventually into the Mississippi late last week.
Shell spokesman Tony Canino said that cleanup will continue indefinitely. Most of the work is being done at the confluence of the Gasconade and Missouri, where a series of booms are in place to trap the oil. However, a thin sheen of oil continues to float down the Mississippi.
The pipeline carries crude oil from Cushing, Okla., to Shell's refinery in Wood River, Ill.
On Wednesday, the spill reached the Missouri River intake valves of St. Louis County Water Co.'s plants in Maryland Heights and Florissant and the St. Louis Water Department plants on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Dave Visintainer of St. Louis Mayor Vincent Schoemehl's office said that brewery personnel detected a slight odor in the water.
'While the water division has received few complaints, it has determined that the additional treatment necessitated by the spill could potentially cause a slight taste or odor in the water for the next several days,' Visintainer said. 'Laboratory tests indicate that the water is safe for consumption and will pose no health risk.'
The incoming water is being treated with powdered activated carbon, an absorbing compound.
Steinhubl said the brewing operations may be shut down for several days at the most.
'We will continue our water-testing procedures, and as soon as we are sure that the problem has been eliminated, we will return to full production,' he said. He added that none of the beer in storage at the brewery was affected by the problem.
The St. Louis brewery is Anheuser Busch's oldest and largest, producing 35,000 barrels of beer each day.
Steinhubl said because the shutdown is expected to be short and because of the availability of beer products from other breweries, no shortages are anticipated.