WALDOBORO, Maine — About 2,000 gallons of heating oil was accidentally pumped into the septic system at the Medomak Middle School on Wednesday.
The environmental impact is not yet known, but the school has provided bottled water to students and staff as a precaution, in the event the oil seeped from the leach field and contaminated the groundwater that supplies the school.
Regional School Unit 40 Superintendent Steve Nolan said Friday that Maritime Energy delivered oil to the school Wednesday. When a school custodian later checked the oil level, it did not match up with the delivery paperwork. Upon further investigation, the staff learned the oil had been pumped into a pipe connected to a pumping station that sends wastewater from the septic tank to the leach field.
The superintendent said Maritime Energy officials told him the delivery driver who made the mistake had not previously delivered oil to the school.
Medomak Middle School Principal Katherine Race said that the pipe to fuel oil tank and the one that leads to the septic system pumps are more than 50 feet apart. She said the fuel pipe had been cleared of snow in anticipation of the delivery but the other one had not. She said the Maritime Energy driver shoveled a path to that septic pipe before pumping the oil.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection was called in, and Interstate Septic responded and pumped oil out of the septic tank. Nolan said several hundred gallons of the oil was recovered, but the remainder has gotten into the leach field.
Maritime Energy Vice President Susan Ware Page said Friday afternoon that the company has taken ownership of the cleanup. She said the driver was an experienced one who was helping out. She said both the fuel pipe and sewer pipe were 4-inch camlock pipes and looked the same.
The chance of contamination of the well is extremely unlikely because the well is located 120 yards away and is uphill from the leach field, Page said. The company has hired a firm to pump out the septic tank regularly in case more oil should find its way in from the leach field. The firm also has hired a civil engineer to help save the leach field, she said.
The school administration considered closing the campus, which includes Medomak Valley High School, but determined that if drinking water was provided until the water is tested it would be safe. The water has been tested, but results have not yet been received.
No school days were missed because of the incident.
“The safety of our students and staff is the top priority,” Nolan said.
The superintendent and state officials met Friday morning and Nolan said he expected a plan to be developed by early next week to dig and clean up the leach field. He said the work will be done soon and will not have to wait for the snow to melt and ground to be thawed.
He said the environmental officials at Friday’s meeting were optimistic that the groundwater would not be contaminated. Even if the water test comes back with no sign of contamination, however, he said bottled water would be provided for a time and subsequent testing would be done.
Karl Wilkins, acting communications director for the DEP, said Friday it was too early to know what environmental impact has occurred.
The superintendent said he expects Maritime Energy will be responsible for the cleanup costs.