(photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
The meeting was designed by officials as an update on the progress in cleaning up diesel and gasoline on the Mississippi River levee.
"This is a pretty large tragedy that hit this city," said Jackson Bostic with the Missouri DNR. But, he continued, city officials should be pleased with the efforts of those involved.
"Our goal is to get this cleaned as soon as possible," said Bostic, adding they will work with as well as push Sinclair officials along. However, he cautioned later in the meeting the complete clean up could take years. "This isn't going away any time soon."
The gasoline and diesel fuel were discovered late Saturday after complaints from residents about a strong odor. DNR officials were on the scene by 1 a.m. Sunday with officials arriving from Sinclair about two hours after being informed of the situation. Bostic said efforts began immediately on containing the spill.
In the first few days, workers have dug pits to intercept any flow of gasoline while others have vacuumed up the liquid from the top of the ground as the river has receded. Pipes leading from the plant to the levee were removed as well.
With this work under way, Sinclair representative Paul Conrad said the second phase of their efforts is beginning with the arrival Wednesday of a soil-boring rig. The rig will drill into the soil as workers attempt to locate the underground gasoline plume and the pathway it is taking. Officials indicated they believe it is flowing away from the community toward the river.
In explaining how the situation came about, it was noted the original gasoline storage plant was located along the levee in the 1940s. In the late 1970s it was sold to Sinclair Oil Co., which operated the facility until 1995 when it was closed and the tanks were drained. Sometime during the plant's operation, a gasoline leak apparently occurred but remained undetected.
Conrad suggested with the recent rapid rise and fall of the river level, heavy rains and the high ground water table, the hydraulic pressure forced the fuels to the surface. "Why it didn't happen in '93 or '95, I don't know but we should get more information as we do the soil boring," he added.
As part of the second phase, DNR and Sinclair officials will take samples of the soil and water and monitor the air quality in the area.
Wind, officials noted, has helped dissipate the odor but citizens residing in the area should be alert to any nausea caused by the smell and leave the area if they believe they are becoming ill.
Also as part of citizen protection, the levee road will remained blocked and the site will be posted against trespassing.
Councilman Dick St. Mary questioned whether the gasoline posed any danger to the city water supply and was reassured because of the depth of the city well and its location, officials did not believe it would. City Water Department Director William Kosky noted he tests the water daily and would watch for any changes. The DNR will test the water also.
However, those residents with personal wells are advised not to drink water from them. DNR officials asked New Madrid residents to report the location of their wells to city hall and the water will be tested to ensure its safety. Well locations can be reported by calling 748- 2866.
Also as part of safety measures, it was recommended citizens not boat or swim in the general area of the spill. Officials stated they did not think the spill posed a hazard to fish.
Some of the saturated soil will be removed from the property and disposed of in an approved landfill at Dexter. Sinclair officials propose dealing with less contaminated soil through other methods to maintain the integrity of the levee. They said they have met with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the oversight of levees.
Wastewater from the cleanup will be treated on site then treated through the city's wastewater plant before being discharged back into the environment. DNR and city officials stated they will monitor the quality and quantity of water brought into the wastewater treatment plant.
Overall, city officials appeared pleased with the efforts. St. Mary, who directed the meeting, praised the cooperation of those involved and their rapid response.