WALLAGRASS — Nearly three weeks after a tractor-trailer accident caused 5,000 gallons of gasoline to spill out onto the ground, officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection and additional crews continue to oversee the cleanup effort.
Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokesperson for the DEP, said there are no confirmed reports of contaminated wells, but gasoline has been leaching out of the ground in ditches about a quarter-mile away on both sides of the spill.
The spill took place in early June after a tractor-trailer belonging to the John T. Noble trucking company of Caribou overturned on Route 11. Deputy Mike Montpetit of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department said that a medical problem led the driver of the truck, Joe Nichols, to lose control of the vehicle after it drifted into the soft shoulder of the roadway and became unstable.
The truck was hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline for Daigle Oil Co. of Fort Kent at the time of the crash. An estimated 5,000 gallons spilled and seeped into the ground when a tank was breached.
Depoy-Warren said the DEP is working with private contractors to collect and treat any gasoline-contaminated water and to pull gasoline from the ground. Officials have said the gas could be in the bedrock above the water table or in another area. Eventually, gas in the bedrock will degrade.
The insurance company for John T. Noble has hired a contractor to work on the investigation and environmental remediation at the site. They will finance the work.
“Recent heavy rains as well as the fractured bedrock because of blasting associated with the recent road redo have made it difficult to determine exactly where the gas is,” said Depoy-Warren. She added that cleanup crews are finding a number of places where there is fuel in the ground, but they have yet to find a significant deposit.
In recent weeks, several area families moved into hotels as a result of odor or concerns related to the spill, according to Depoy-Warren, but she believed that most had returned home by Monday. The DEP has installed state-owned carbon filtration systems at several area homes that are of elevated concern, mainly due to the presence of young children.
She added that DEP staffers also are communicating with town officials and residents. They plan to send out an informational newsletter this month and put together a community meeting, tentatively scheduled for mid-July, to update residents on the situation and answer questions.
“It is important to us at the Maine DEP that the residents of Wallagrass know that even if they don’t see our staff or the other private contractors working on site at all times, they should be confident and comfortable in the fact that we are all still very much focused on ensuring the protection of their health and collaboratively bringing this cleanup to a close in a way that is safest and most effective for the community, and for the environment,” said Depoy-Warren.
She said it is “quite likely” that the cleanup will be going on for several more months, possibly even years.