1,500 gallons of motor oil spills into Washington river, covers 50 birds (PHOTOS)

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. (AP) — Environmental officials say spilled oil has covered 50 birds after as much as 1,500 gallons of used motor oil leaked into irrigation canals and a river in an agricultural area of south-central Washington.

Ecology Department spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder says a subcontractor was hired Tuesday to try to save the birds.

She says the spill was discovered Sunday in Sunnyside, about 140 miles southeast of Seattle. A contractor's workers have been using absorbent pads, protective booms and vacuum pumps to clean up the oil. The work could take weeks.

Redfield-Wilder says the oil was stored in a tank at a former feedlot and could have been there for years. The leak flowed through about 7 miles of irrigation ditches and canals and about 12 miles down the Yakima River.

The Department of Ecology released the following statement:

"Responders have observed at least 50 birds that are moderately oiled as a result of the spill.

Unified Command will work with a wildlife rehabilitation organization to conduct surveys and a full evaluation of the impacts to waterfowl and other wildlife. This will include any rehabilitation deemed necessary.

People are requested to stay away from oiled wildlife to minimize stress to the animals. Citizens should not attempt to capture any oiled wildlife; such efforts could endanger the safety both of the public and the animals."