State says fuel from spill found in Susitna River

Posted: Thursday, July 06, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Jet fuel from a train derailment north of Talkeetna last December has reached the Susitna River, a state environmental official said Wednesday.

A small amount of fuel turned up in a water sample taken last Friday after fuel was found in several test wells, one of which was just 10 feet from the river, said Leslie Pearson, onsite coordinator for the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The test well contained 16,400 parts per billion, enough ''to raise eyebrows,'' Pearson said. The water sample from the river contained 330 parts per billion.

''It is a low level, but the fact that it is there is a concern,'' she said.

More than 120,000 gallons of jet fuel was spilled during the derailment 36 miles north of Talkeetna. Crews recovered 16,570 gallons, or about 14 percent of the total.

Ernie Piper, Alaska Railroad's vice president for safety and environmental compliance, said new test samples were taken Wednesday and results should be available by Friday.

He began questioning the initial test results once he got a closer look at a laboratory report breaking down the fuel components found in the samples.

''The sample results do not look like they should,'' he said. ''There could be an error.''

When a similar thing occurred in January, retesting showed no fuel in the Susitna, Piper said. ''Maybe there is, but let's be sure,'' he said.

The Alaska Railroad, which has spent about $9 million so far on the cleanup, began digging a trench over the weekend to prevent any more fuel from reaching the Susitna. About 300 feet of trench had been dug by Wednesday, Piper said. The trench when finished will probably be about 450 feet. Plans also call for placing several hundred feet of boom in the water.

Instead of removing contaminated soil, the railroad chose to pump air into the ground to vent some of the fuel vapors and to stimulate bacteria that will feed on and break down the hydrocarbons.

Crews have dug more than 120 test wells around the site to monitor the spill. Pearson said five more test wells will have to be dug and work expanded to vent vapors from the site.

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