DEP finds contaminants in Wallagrass wells

Posted June 21, 2011, at 7:46 p.m.

WALLAGRASS, Maine — Petroleum-based contaminants have been found in three wells near where 5,000 gallons of gasoline spilled out onto the ground in an accident here three weeks ago.

Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Tuesday evening that the department tested samples of well water in 23 locations. One well adjacent to the spill site was contaminated by petroleum compounds above maximum exposure guidelines. Wells at two other homes nearby showed low concentrations of contaminants at or below DEP action levels. All of the homeowners have been notified and the DEP is getting carbon filtration systems set up at each home to fix the problem, said Depoy-Warren.

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.

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.

Up until Tuesday, no traces of contaminants had been found in area wells.

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.

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 because of the presence of young children.

“The state Health and Environmental Testing Lab is providing very fast turnaround times for the tests, and another round of water samples will be submitted today,” Depoy-Warren said Tuesday. “The sampling schedule will be weekly for wells closer to the spill, every other week for homes a bit further out, and monthly for wells distant from the spill site.

She said it is “quite likely” that the cleanup will be going on for several more months, possibly even years.

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