WILLIAMSPORT – The Department of Environmental Protection continues to oversee the proper cleanup of 63,000 gallons of gasoline that spilled in Coal Township, Northumberland County, on May 16, when a bulldozer operator employed by Kerris and Helfrick Coal Co. accidentally struck a 14-inch underground gasoline line owned by Sunoco.
“This was a significant spill in an area with many old abandoned deep mines, which complicates gasoline recovery efforts,” DEP Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell said. “However, DEP is working closely with Sunoco and its consultant, Groundwater Environmental Services, to ensure that the cleanup is done properly.”
DEP Emergency Response program staff members were on site in Coal Township shortly after the spill was first reported, providing guidance and oversight to local officials and hazardous materials contractors to ensure local residents’ safety. Some residents were temporarily evacuated and the nearby Shamokin Area and Our Lady of Lourdes Regional high schools were closed until May 18.
DEP staff also monitored air vapors in nearby homes and schools and sampled a deep irrigation well owned by Our Lady of Lourdes Regional High School not far from the spill. Those results indicated that all compounds were non-detectable.
DEP’s Environmental Cleanup program has been in charge of the remediation since May 18.
DEP staff responded to complaints about gasoline odors in basements along Balsam Street on the evening of May 19 and worked with local emergency responders and Groundwater Environmental Services to monitor air in those homes. No evacuations were necessary, and GES currently has a ventilation system operating in the sewer system to help decrease the concentrations of gasoline fumes there.
Groundwater Environmental Services workers continue to excavate and stockpile contaminated soil and rock from the area and are installing piping that will be part of a soil vapor extraction system to remove gasoline fumes from the material.
A small quantity of gasoline has accumulated in some ditches and low areas, but is being recovered with a vacuum truck.
To address groundwater contamination, Groundwater Environmental Services submitted a work plan to DEP on May 29. Under the plan, mine water discharges and indoor air quality will be monitored along with newly installed wells to determine if any gasoline might be in the shallow water table above a 400-foot deep mine pool that was identified by studying DEP mining maps. If gasoline is found, recovery efforts will be implemented.
“Based on all the technical data that we have collected thus far, we believe that a significant portion of the gasoline could be in the strip pit adjacent to the spill and in this deep mine pool,” Yowell said. “GES sampled the four acid mine discharges from this pool into Shamokin Creek near the Cameron Bridge on May 22 and the results showed no signs of gasoline compounds. There is no imminent health threat at this time.”
Yowell also stressed that air monitoring around the spill will continue so that no gasoline fumes are present that could potentially threaten the health and safety of residents, school children or cleanup staff.
Sunoco constructed the gasoline pipeline in 1964. The federal Department of Transportation is responsible for regulating the construction and use of long-distance liquid petroleum transport lines.
The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, or HSCA, Fund played a role in the department’s response efforts, ensuring that residents were not exposed to dangerous chemicals and vapors while in their homes and schools.
The HSCA program is one of the commonwealth’s most important tools when responding to environmental threats and protecting the public’s safety, but faces an uncertain future as it lacks a dedicated funding source. A one-time allocation of $50 million from the Environmental Stewardship Fund under Growing Greener II will soon be depleted.
The program allows DEP to respond to dangerous pollutants found in the soil, or when toxic chemicals are discovered that could threaten a drinking water supply, HSCA funds the work to remove those chemicals and provide local residents with bottled water in the interim. The HSCA program is also what made the Selinsgrove cancer cluster study possible.
At the end of the current fiscal year, June 30, there will only be enough money remaining in the HSCA fund to continue operations through the end of September. Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s fiscal year 2007-08 budget contains a proposal to enact a $2.25 per ton tipping fee on municipal waste landfilled in Pennsylvania to ensure the long-term health of the fund by generating more than $37 million in FY 07-08, and $50.2 million in following years.
For more information on the Environmental Cleanup program, visit DEP’s Web site, keyword “Environmental Cleanup Programs.” To learn more about the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program, use the keyword “HSCA.”