ANCHORAGE -- Water samples taken this week from the Susitna River showed no sign of fuel contamination from a train derailment north of Talkeetna last December, the Alaska Railroad announced Friday.
The results of the tests taken Wednesday came only days after state environmental officials said a small amount of fuel showed up in a water sample taken June 30. Samples have been taken regularly since more than 120,000 gallons of jet fuel was spilled during the Dec. 22 derailment. Crews recovered 16,570 gallons, or about 14 percent of the total.
Ernie Piper, the railroad's vice president for safety and environmental compliance, said he began questioning the results of the June 30 test when he saw a laboratory report breaking down the fuel components found in the samples. The chemical fingerprint didn't match the fingerprint for the fuel that spilled, Piper said. He speculated that the positive findings could have come from an organic material with fuel characteristics, such as peat.
''The real point here is that individual samples are useful only when reviewed together with other samples taken over time,'' Piper said.
The earlier sample, however, was taken after fuel was found in several test wells, one of which was just 10 feet from the river, according to officials with the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The test well contained 16,400 parts per billion, enough to worry the agency. The water sample from the river contained 330 parts per billion.
Leslie Pearson, DEC's onsite coordinator, said she hadn't yet seen the results of the samples taken Wednesday. However, she said a trench dug this week to prevent any fuel from reaching the Susitna could simply be working as it's supposed to.
''I would hope we wouldn't see anything in those samples,'' Pearson said. ''That trench is massive.''
The Alaska Railroad, which has spent about $9 million so far on the cleanup, began digging the 450-foot-long trench over the weekend and completed it Thursday, Piper said. Plans also call for placing several hundred feet of boom in the water.
''There's still a big fuel spill there so we're not out of the woods yet,'' Piper said.
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.
The railroad plans to continue testing samples, Piper said. Next week, a third party will conduct the tests to ensure quality control, he said.
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