Burbank Chemical Spill Causes
by Gary Wang
In April 2008, the Port of Walla Walla, in the midst of building a potable water system,discovered petroleum contamination on their property in Burbank, a town in the Tri-City metropolitan area. The contamination is located at the Burbank Industrial Park, a property of the Port's, right under Chevron diesel and petroleum pipelines.
Upon discovery of the contamination, the Port immediately hired a local environmental firm to do some preliminary testing of the soil and subsequently hired another environmental engineering firm, GeoEngineers, Inc., to do additional testing of the soil and groundwater in the area.
"They found diesel and gasoline contamination," said Mike Boatsman, Site Manager of the Toxic Cleanup Program of Eastern Washington for the Washington Department of Ecology.
The levels of contamination in the soil exceed the acceptable levels of benzene and other petroleum constituent chemicals set forth by the Department of Ecology, Port officials said. The Port has also put in a number of soil borings, which drill holes into the ground, and water monitoring wells to monitor the level of chemical contamination.
However, the contamination does not appear to pose a significant risk to public health. The water in Burbank already has significant levels of nitrate, so the water isn't potable, and the water pipeline the Port was installing has its source from outside the area.
"There is no indication that the contamination poses a threat to local drinking water supplies. We're talking about parts per million. They weren't identifying gallons of petroleum," Boatsman said.
There is no liquid gasoline floating in the groundwater. As such, the Department of Ecology is satisfied that there is not an on-going chemical release at this site. While there is a privately owned water well in the Burbank Industrial Park, the water is mostly used for processing purposes, such as flushing toilets, Port officials emphasized.
However, they have promised to double-check the privately owned wells in the area.
"At this point, we're not aware of any irrigationwells within the vicinity of that site that could be immediately impacted," said Boatsman.
The Burbank Industrial Park is also located near the Snake River's intersection with the Columbia River, but Port officials said they don't know yet if the groundwater could migrate and leak into the larger Snake River. Last Thursday, the Port commissioners-Paul Schneidmiller, Mike Fredrickson and Fred Bennett-authorized drilling additional wells outside of the initial area of contamination in the Burbank Industrial Park to determine the how far the contamination may have spread.
The Port has notified Chevron of its discovery, but Chevron has not taken an official position on whether or not it's liable for the contamination in the ground around its pipelines.
"Even though we don't know where we stand at this time with Chevron, that's not keeping us from getting out there, and getting these additional studies," Schneidmiller said.
Chevron received an easement, or a legal right to operate at that property, in the late 1950s by the Port of Walla Walla. By the time the additional testing is finished-six to eight weeks from now-this investigation of the soil contamination will have cost the Port an estimated $185,000. The Port has already spent $110,000 on this investigation.
However, Chevron has not detected any current leakages in their pipelines.
"Indications are that it's an old release. That tempers our concern too. Our first response is to make sure that there's not some ongoing release," said Boatsman.
However, that does not mean that Chevron cannot be liable, because neither the Port nor the Department of Ecology knows when the soil in the industrial park first became contaminated.
"We're not saying that there's an active leak now. We're saying that there are contaminants in the ground and the highest concentrations are underneath the bloc valve, so Chevron might be right. It might not be leaking right now. The contamination is in the soil, underneath their block valve. We have the ability in the statutory rights to take legal action against Chevron as the Port," said Jim Kuntz, Director of the Port of Walla Walla.
However, no legal action is imminent. Both Chevron and the Port are awaiting more information from the studies.
"We're going to try to work cooperatively with Chevron so we can get this site cleaned up in an expeditious manner," Schneidmiller said.
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