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Work continues on gasoline cleanup along river

Thursday, February 13, 2003

NEW MADRID -- On an evening in early June 2002, the strong odor of gasoline wafted across New Madrid. Residents along the river levee were evacuated and a search for the source led to an abandoned fuel terminal along the Mississippi River front.

Officials cordoned off the area and work began on a massive clean up.

Nine months later that work continues.

City officials say they are pleased with the cleanup operations by Sinclair Oil Co. under the direction of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

"It has been going well," said City Administrator Furg Hunter about the cleanup. "They have been keeping us updated and we have had no further complaints from citizens."

Hunter said with the Department of Natural Resources overseeing the cleanup, local officials believe the process will be done completely and safely. "We have DNR to look over their shoulder to ensure they are doing all that needs to be done."

What has been done is a series of steps to clean up the gasoline which was discovered "weeping" into the river. Apparently the high river levels and heavy rains of last spring forced pockets of gasoline in the soil to the surface.

Following initial removal of the contaminated soil, approximately 23 monitoring wells were installed and numerous borings taken to determine the extent of the gasoline leaks. According to Ron Sheeley, environmental emergency specialist III with DNR, a "very thorough assessment" was conducted of the area.

While the tanks at the fuel site had long been empty, officials were initially concerned gas had leaked beneath the tanks years before forming a pool underground. The tests determined there was no such gas plume.

"Basically nothing was there," said Sheeley. "It looks like all of it was sucked or washed to the river bank where it was absorbed in soil and sand."

He estimated workers recovered several hundred gallons of gasoline at the site over a cleanup area that was roughly less than 100 yards wide.

Along the riverbank, workers now are using an automated groundwater-soil cleanup system that recovers vapors from the ground. The process is being helped along by the current low river levels, Sheeley noted.

Because there are many variables involved such as the soil types and river levels, the DNR official said it is hard to determine how long the cleanup will take. He offered a rough guess of about two years.

Because the Department of Natural Resources is typically involved only on short-term oversight, the next move by the DNR is be to turn the long-term oversight of the cleanup to others. Sheeley said a meeting is being scheduled with Sinclair to obtain a consent agreement for another agency to oversee their voluntary cleanup program.

And he offered praise for the company's efforts at New Madrid, noting "they have done everything we have asked them too."

Sinclair officials are also pleased with the cooperation they have received from DNR and from New Madrid. Paul Conrad, an environmental engineer with Sinclair, said both have been helpful in coordinating efforts with the company.

Adding the cleanup is a priority for Sinclair officials, Conrad said: "I hope people realize when the release was discovered our officials flew by jet and were there the next day. Sinclair has responded in a big way to the problem, spent a lot of money there. In my opinion I think Sinclair has done an excellent job of stepping up to the plate and taking care of it."