M’boro firemen contain fuel spill

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 12, 2004

MURFREESBORO – Ever heard the old saying – &uot;just follow your nose.&uot; That’s exactly what led Joe Harrell in his discovery of a major fuel leak here Sunday.

Harrell, co-owner of Eddie Harrell’s Auto and Sports Store and resident of Ahoskie, happened to be pulling into the parking lot of his mother and sister in law’s business, The Inside Outside Flea Market in Murfreesboro. As he stepped out of his vehicle, Harrell smelled gasoline fumes.

&uot;At first I thought it was my truck that was giving off that odor, but the smell seemed too strong to be fumes from my vehicle so I walked next door to Eastern Fuels property to see if I could locate the source of the smell,&uot; said Harrell.

&uot;When I looked over the retaining wall that surrounds the fuel tanks, I noticed that it was about a foot deep with what appeared to be a mixture of water and fuel. That’s when I contacted the police department.&uot;

Murfreesboro Police and Fire departments were dispatched to the scene around 2:30 p.m., immediately following the report of the incident, while other emergency personnel were contacted.

&uot;When we arrived on the scene, we noticed that the product had leaked beyond the barrier of the retaining wall down and on into the nearby ditch,&uot; said Murfreesboro Fire Chief William Deans.

According to Deans, in an effort to contain the spill, firefighters shut off the tank’s valves after tracing the leaks back to two broken pipes and filled multiple cracks in the dyke, which seem to have caused the substance to leak into the surrounding areas.

&uot;The dyke is designed to hold one tank of fuel plus 10 percent, in case there should be a situation like this,&uot; said Deans.

&uot;A lot of the fractures in the structure were between the cinder blocks in the mortar, which breaks down over time. Today’s construction standards require retaining walls be made of solid concrete.&uot;

Deans commented that firefighters were able to contain the spill, consisting of kerosene, diesel, gasoline and water, by controlling runoff and dyking-up two of the nearby storm drains.

&uot;Luckily, none of the substance had gone into the storm drains,&uot; said Deans. &uot;We were able to use special absorbing pads that exclusively target petroleum, so when we laid them down in the affected areas, the pads could decipher the difference between water and fuel and absorb only the fuel part. It’s really amazing.&uot;

After the fire department contained the spill and yielded the clean-up to Coastal Environmental, the company began suctioning fuel out of the retaining area, where the contaminated fuel had pooled.

&uot;Typically, the substance is referred to as petroleum contaminated waste water,&uot; said Coy Domecq, General Manager of Coastal Environmental the environmental arm of Eastern Fuels, &uot;It is a mixture of water and fuel products in a 90-10 ratio.

&uot;The storage tanks exist as a holding facility for when we do recovery for clients with water in their systems. Once the contaminated waste water has been removed, it gets placed in the holding tanks until vendors retrieve it and transport it back to their facility, to undergo a purification process.

&uot;Because petroleum is less dense than water, it floats, making it easier to separate.

The fuel is extracted out of the water and treated for reuse, while the water undergoes a cleansing process,&uot; he said.

Coastal Environmental had removed approximately three truckloads, equivalent to 9,000 gallons of contaminated wastewater and, according to Domecq, was scheduled to meet with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sometime Monday morning.

Officials from the North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources were also contacted. Eastern Fuels is also in the process of seeing what needs to be done to prevent similar future occurrences.

&uot;Federal regulations, under the EPA Spill Protection Contamination Control, typically allow three to six months to fix the problem, depending on the circumstance,&uot; said Domecq.

&uot;We were very fortunate that the leak did not go any further than the surrounding 140 feet and that it was caught when it was. Protecting and preserving our environment and natural resources is not only a concern for us, it’s our job. Cleaning up spills like these is part of our responsibility and we are well trained and prepared to handle these situations.&uot;

Domecq went on to say that he was quite pleased with the performance of members of the MFD and commended the department’s response and actions stating they &uot;did and excellent job and did everything by the book.&uot;