Thursday, August 8, 2002

Quick work stops gas spill contamination

Published in the Current

A fuel truck spilled 3,500 gallons of gasoline in a Pleasant Hill Road parking lot just before 7 a.m., Aug. 6, briefly threatening the Nonesuch River and the Scarborough Marsh. But quick work by a crew from Maietta Construction kept the spill from spreading very far.

At 6:42 a.m., the Scarborough Fire Department got a call that a tanker truck had hit a pillar protecting fuel valves and had sprung a leak.

The truck, owned by Abenaqui Carriers of Windham, was carrying both diesel fuel and gasoline, and had just finished making a diesel delivery to the Penske truck leasing business on Pleasant Hill Road.

As it was pulling away, the truck hit a concrete pillar, damaging the discharge manifold the truck uses to dispense fuel, according to Fire Chief Michael Thurlow.

Gasoline from that compartment of the truck began to spill, and the emergency valve, also damaged in the collision, didn’t work properly to cut off the flow.

Neil Maietta was at the Maietta Construction company just next door when he heard the accident happen. “We saw gas coming out of a tank truck like it was coming out of a fire hydrant,” he said. “I didn’t know when it was going to stop coming out.”

About 2,000 feet from the spill site is the opening to a culvert with no outlet except the Scarborough Marsh. Maietta said his nephew Mikey and other Maietta workers were able to put a big pile of clay and sand into the culvert’s opening before the gas flowed through.

“We had a lot of pressure but everybody stayed pretty calm,” Maietta said. “My guys, they reacted really well.”

Thurlow said their efforts “certainly saved a substantial environmental impact.”

The first firefighters on the scene decided there was a large explosive hazard and asked Central Maine Power to shut off the power. Electricity was cut off for much of Pleasant Hill Road and a large section of Route 1.

Power was restored to most of the area when the danger of explosion diminished, Thurlow said. A couple of buildings near the spill were without power for several hours.

South Portland firefighters brought over some of their spill containment equipment, which they have on hand in case of an incident at the tank farm there, including a foam truck and booms to help control the flow.

Clean Harbors Environmental Services, a South Portland environmental remediation firm, brought over a large amount of pumping equipment to empty the catch basins and then the pool created at the base of the dam.

When Maietta’s crew had filled in the culvert, it was dry, without even any water running through. He took Clean Harbors workers back to the dam and found the dam had worked.

“There was two feet of pure gasoline at the dam site,” Maietta said.

Also on scene were people from the U.S. Coast Guard, the state Marine Patrol and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Most of the firefighters left when the DEP deemed the scene safe around noon, according to Deputy Fire Chief Glen Deering. While gas fumes had been thick in the area earlier in the day, air quality tests showed safe levels before the fire crews departed.

Some firefighters did remain on the scene, though, pumping water into the drainage area just north of the Hannaford Bros. office building, working to flush out remaining gas from the dense underbrush.

There may be further activity required to clean up the site, Deering said, but that would be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Jon Woodard, DEPsupervisor for response services for Southern Maine, said the cleanup should be relatively quick. Workers went through the underbrush area to be sure they had collected all of the gas possible. The foliage will probably die off this year, but will return next year, Woodard said.

Work was expected to be completed the evening after the spill, Woodard said. Further evaluation might result in additional cleanup work, he said, but he expected it to be a small-scale cleanup over the long term.

“What’s dissolved in the water and what’s a sheen really can’t be cleaned,” Woodard said. Most gasoline in a spill, he said, evaporates before it can be cleaned up by remediation crews.

Sampling of the water upstream and downstream of the spill will help the DEP determine what contamination has occurred, he said.

Abenaqui Carriers, Woodard said, is considered the responsible party in the incident, and has “stepped up” and is paying for the cleanup.

Woodard said he thought the truck could have held more gas, possibly three times as much as spilled, and noted that the “quick thinking” of the Scarborough firefighters and the Maietta crew in building the dam helped quite a bit.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Woodard said.