WALLAGRASS, Maine — Although weather conditions have slightly hampered the cleanup effort, representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection are pleased with the progress made in the nearly four months since a major gasoline spill.
The DEP hosted a second public hearing on Thursday evening to update residents on the ongoing effort to mop up 5,000 gallons of gasoline that spilled along a community roadway on May 31. Approximately 25 people attended the event, which was held at the Wallagrass Elementary School.
The spill took place on May 31 after a tractor-trailer belonging to the John T. Noble trucking company of Caribou overturned on Route 11. Investigators said that a medical problem led the truck’s driver, Joe Nichols, to lose control of the vehicle after it drifted onto 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.
Officials from the DEP are working with Stantec, an environmental consultant hired by the trucking company’s insurance company, to handle site remediation.
Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP, said Friday that Thursday’s meeting drew a smaller crowd than the DEP’s initial informational meeting in June. Depoy-Warren said she believes that the department’s ongoing campaign to keep the public informed about the cleanup effort resulted in the smaller crowd.
“The meeting was very positive,” she said Friday. “When we held the first meeting in June, we did not have a lot of answers. The spill had just happened. Now, the remediation effort is in full force, we have set up a website to keep people informed about the cleanup, we are in people’s homes testing their water and we are meeting with the town manager twice a week.”
Thus far, according to the DEP, approximately 1,200 gallons of gas have been recovered. A new ground water remediation system has been running since Sept. 2. As part of the cleanup effort, crews also have drilled recovery and monitoring wells. Depoy-Warren said that the vapor extraction system presently working to remove contamination from the soil has not been as effective as the DEP had hoped.
“It has been a very wet summer, and the ground water is higher now than it was when this extraction system was originally tested,” she said. “The water table is up, so the system is not as effective, even though it is working well and pushing out gas and other toxic compounds. We expect that the system will become fully effective as fall progresses and it will be fully effective right through the winter.”
So far, crews have found the presence of petroleum compounds above maximum exposure guidelines at only one well directly adjacent to the spill site. That home was fitted with a double carbon filtration system, although use of a single carbon filtration system is customary, according to Depoy-Warren.
“We are so protective that we put in two,” she said. “The water coming from that well is safe. We also put those carbon filtration systems at eight other homes just to be as protective as possible. The water supply is very safe.”
Depoy-Warren said that residents had been concerned about the possibility of vapors oozing from the ground, but multiple tests have indicated that vapors are not present and the air is safe.
“We have been very clear in our conversations with the community and town officials that we will never recover all of the spilled gasoline because gas sticks to rocks and soil very far underground,” she acknowledged. “Our goal is to remove the risk and make sure the community is protected, and that is what we are doing.”
Depoy-Warren credited everyone involved with the cleanup effort, including trucking company owner John Noble, for their work. Noble was present at Thursday’s meeting.
“He took responsibility for the accident immediately, and that does not always happen,” she said. “Mr. Noble and his insurance company stepped in and took action so that the remediation efforts could begin immediately. This could have been so much worse, had there been a lag in time that allowed the gas to seep deeper into the groundwater. Multiple wells or the entire community could have been badly effected.”
For information about the cleanup effort, go to http://maine.gov/dep/rwm/wallagrass/.