2,600 gallons removed, taint lingers
A clean-up crew continues to remove gasoline from the soil behind Robbinsville’s Crown service station, where a leaking premium fuel tank was detected in mid-August.
To date, 2,600 gallons of petroleum product have been sucked from the ground, enough to fill a 15-gallon vehicle gas tank 173 times.
“They’re continuing to do free product, recovery,” said Jan Anderson of the state Division of Waste Management. “It’s an ongoing abatement.”
And Tallulah Creek and the Cheoah River remain contaminated.
“The section of stream immediately downstream of the release is exceeding surface water standards for benzene and toluene. The lower section of the Cheoah River, immediately upstream of Lake Santeetlah, is intermittently exceeding the surface water standard for toluene,” remarked Landon Davidson, regional supervisor with the Division of Water Resources.
Crown owner Dirk Cody takes exception to that assessment. “The level in the stream is not consistently violating safe levels,” Cody said. “When we get a significant weather event and the water table rises, there’s a spike. It spikes and goes away, spikes and goes away.”
Benzene is known to be a human carcinogen. Exposure to benzene can affect the hematological, immunological and neurological organ systems.
Toulene is not known to cause cancer but is believed to affect the nervous system and brain.
A recreational-use advisory for Tallulah Creek and the Cheoah River issued by the Graham County Health Dept. 206 days ago remains in affect.
Cody says that statistic is also misleading. “The water in the stream is fine,” Cody said. “I’ve not seen any evidence of one fish dying because of the fuel spill.”
The Tallulah water treatment plant, which is located 1,500 feet downstream from the gasoline release, is still closed.
“The Public Water Supply Section is recommending the plant be decontaminated before resuming normal operations,” Davidson remarked.
Cody maintains that there has never been any evidence of fuel contamination within the plant. “The plant is closed because of the city, not us,” Cody remarked. “The only contamination is from the town using chroline to prevent algae.”
How long the clean-up will take is unclear.
Cody has ordered new, above-ground fuel tanks to replace five underground tanks in the basin that held the leaking tank.
“We will take out the tanks whether they leak or not,” Cody said. “It’s probably the quickest way to allow the clean-up people to do what they need to do.”
Cody is awaiting delivery of five above-ground tanks that will be installed behind the Crown station in April.
State officials continue to praise Cody for working with them. “They’ve been very cooperative,” Andersen said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them.”
Meanwhile, the state is keeping busy. According to Davidson, state officials are conducting a site assessment study, and planning a pilot study to determine the efficacy of treating contaminated groundwater through air stripping technology.