Diesel spill fouls water in Pitkas Point

Posted: Friday, April 28, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A diesel fuel spill this week in a lower Yukon River village has fouled the community's only source of drinking water, state environmental officials said Friday.

The spill, now estimated at about 55 gallons, was discovered Thursday in Pitkas Point, a village of about 150 people on the Yukon between St. Marys and Mountain Village.

''Their water supply is completely contaminated and has been shut down,'' said Leslie Pearson, state on-scene coordinator with the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Pitkas Point's fire truck has been dispatched to St. Marys, three miles upriver, to fill its 300-gallon tank at 10 cents a gallon, Pearson said. The communities are connected by road.

Officials from St. Marys and Pitkas Point did not return phone calls Friday afternoon.

Pearson said the fuel leaked when ice broke a pipe used to transfer diesel from a bulk-storage tank to a smaller tank. She didn't know when the leak started.

The tanks belong to the Lower Yukon School District. Its workers were doing cleanup on Friday using sorbent pads, according to DEC.

Ray Griffith, superintendent for the school district, refused to comment Friday on the spill or how it might impact the three dozen students at the K-12 school.

Pitkas Point has what's known as a surface water infiltration system, Pearson said. The village collects and stores surface water, treats it with chemicals and pumps it to users.

Only the city offices, school and teacher homes have piped water. Nearly everyone in the village gets their water from the community washeteria.

Pearson said she's heard two versions of how the fuel contamination was discovered. One story has a sheen being seen in one of the water collection areas, while the other has a teacher getting fouled water when turning on a faucet.

At the very least, Pearson said, Pitkas Point will have to develop a new infiltration system and will probably have to overhaul its treatment facility and install new water pipes.

''We're looking at a long-term cleanup,'' she said.

The DEC has sent an official from its Bethel office to oversee the cleanup and to determine the accuracy of the spill's size.

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