Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Fuel leak cleanup continues

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/6/18

ELY – Cleanup continued this week of a gasoline leak originating from a broken underground feed line at the Holiday Station on Sheridan Street that led to thousands of gallons of gasoline leaking …

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Fuel leak cleanup continues

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ELY – Cleanup continued this week of a gasoline leak originating from a broken underground feed line at the Holiday Station on Sheridan Street that led to thousands of gallons of gasoline leaking into the city’s sanitary and storm sewer system on Memorial Day.

Extraction of contaminated material at the gas station was initiated Monday morning. “They have to remove a lot of material,” said Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency determined that approximately 4,800 gallons of fuel leaked from a tank and pipe system at the Holiday Station. “That’s a lot of gasoline,” Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said. “It permeated into the ground somewhere. We don’t know where. After the close of business on Sunday (May 27), something failed where a pump turned on and nobody was pumping gas.”

Novak is the public information officer for the incident and all information and updates concerning the incident are being disseminated through the city of Ely. The MPCA officials in Ely would not provide any comments on the incident. Holiday Station management would not comment on the incident.

The gas that was leaking was being pumped directly into the ground around the tanks, Novak explained, and when the area was saturated, some flowed into the city’s storm sewer system.

A cleanup company was called in to soak up the lake spill. “Maybe 50 gallons of fuel entered the lake,” he said. “There were reports of some dead fish in the lake and, according to the Department of Natural Resources, they stocked fish in the lake on Memorial Day and attributed the couple of dead fish to temperature shock.”

The total amount spilled was later estimated from inventory levels taken Sunday night at the store’s closure and Monday morning at its opening, Novak said.

Late last week, workers drilled holes into the ground at the leak site and extracted about 1,000 gallons of a mixture of water and gas. They hadn’t yet determined on Friday how much gas was in the liquid, according to Novak.

Novak said most of the fuel is believed to be located at the gas station site.

“It’s turned out to be an advantage, for once, that the whole system is sitting in ledge rock,” he said. When the tanks were installed, they blasted rock and, kind of like a bathtub, some of the fuel was contained and couldn’t get out of the rocks.”

Residents and visitors should stay clear of special venting equipment installed across the city at storm and sanitary sewer outlets, the mayor warned. “It’s unknown how long this venting process will take before the system is clear and the equipment can be removed,” he said.

The leak has been stopped and there have been no reports of injuries as a result of the spill. There was one report of an Ely resident having gasoline fumes present in their basement. The Ely Fire Department responded to determine the severity of the report.

“People and businesses within the city limits to the east and north of the Holiday station may smell gasoline fumes in buildings, homes and basements,” Novak said.

“If this occurs, it is recommended people open basement or ground floor windows to help ventilate the building and then leave the building temporarily to allow for the air quality to improve.

The contact for requested on-site review is calling 911 and the dispatchers will contact the Ely Fire Department. Possible short-term health effects from breathing gasoline fumes include dizziness, headaches, nausea or nose and throat irritation. Seek medical treatment if symptoms persist.”

“A plumber will be monitoring storm and wastewater sewers for any further evidence of leaks,” Novak said.

MPCA is overseeing the response, and the State Fire Marshal’s office is assisting in the effort. “Their three main goals are to continue to ventilate the sanitary sewer system, recover remaining fuel at the release or source point, and to monitor the storm sewer system and ventilate as needed,” he said.

The leaking fuel drained to a small portion of town, in an area north of the Holiday Station to Miner’s Lake and east of 10th Avenue. “The amount of fuel that got into the storm sewer system was minimal,” Novak said. “On Miner’s Lake, the Fire Department recovered maybe 50 gallons, so it wasn’t a big impact down there.”

Langowski said after the MPCA was notified, a crew from OSI Environmental Inc., of Eveleth, was dispatched to Ely early Monday to assist in the recovery and clean-up efforts.

The OSI crew was at the intersection of Camp Street and 17th Avenue last Tuesday afternoon conducting clean-up procedures. Fuel-soaking materials were seen at the storm-sewer culvert on 17th Avenue and Camp Street. Similar clean-up efforts were underway at the mouth of the drainage ditch that emptied into Miner’s Lake.

Ventilator fans were positioned at manholes at several intersections last Thursday in an effort to ventilate the fumes. “There is no explosive concern, but the odor can be bothersome,” Novak said.

Monitoring of fuel vapor levels continues, and remaining levels are not considered a risk to public health. “The highest amount of fuel vapor measured at the site of the spill was 1,300 parts per million. In order to be at a combustible stage, that level would have to be at least 14,000 parts per million, or ten times the amount measured,” he said.

Extraction of contaminated soil was likely to continue this week, Langowski said.

The Holiday Station’s convenience store continues to operate at normal hours, but no gasoline is available.

The Timberjay will have updated information when available.

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