Test results in on Nanwalek fuel spill

Posted: Friday, August 25, 2000

As school starts in Nanwalek, the Kenai Peninsula Borough has received results of tests done on a 20-year-old fuel spill in the village's school playground.

"There were no hazards that we found," said Borough Planning Director Robert Bright, but he added that tests are continuing. "We are trying to determine the extent of contamination for any future cleanup."

Residents of Nanwalek remain skeptical.

"We're grateful that (the borough) expedited testing, but feel they need to clean up the contaminated soil no matter what the level is," said Tom Evans, environmental specialist for the Nanwalek Tribal Council.

He said that a few residents did not send their children to school on Wednesday because of the contamination.

"The borough has been sending us enough information, but it needs to be explained better, because they're talking to a bunch of regular folks, not scientists," Evans said.

Nanwalek residents have been concerned about the spill of diesel fuel, which leaked from a storage tank near the school in 1979. Remnants of the spilled fuel are still present at the playground and recently resurfaced when new playground equipment was being installed at the school.

Air and water samples were collected on Aug. 4, and soil samples on Aug. 11, 12, and 13 by the borough and independent contractor Rozak Engineering. Owner Ron Rozak said soil samples were taken in accordance with Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, placed in jars and packed on ice. They were sent to a lab in Anchorage which did the actual testing. An instrument known as a "sniffer," which detects the presence of contaminants, was used to identify the worst-case locations of toxins for samples.

Testing was done for benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene. These chemicals are components of diesel fuel and also are used in oil-based paints and solvents. Benzene is a known carcinogen at higher levels. The other three may occur naturally and usually are harmless unless directly ingested.

"We test for these mostly to make sure they aren't there," said Rozak. "They are rarely present in old fuel spills."

One water sample was taken that showed no contamination. Of three air samples, two were negative, and one showed 1.17 parts per million of xylene. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard is 100 parts per million; anything below that level is considered safe.

There were 28 soil samples tested for diesel-range organics, measuring the amount of diesel still left in the soil. The highest measured 7,410 parts per million, the lowest showed zero. Two samples taken two feet below the surface were in excess of 7,000 ppm, and 16 were less than 2,000. None of the samples taken within one foot of the surface were above 3,000 ppm. DEC standards hold that anything less than 12,000 ppm is safe for ingestion; anything less than 8,250 ppm is safe for inhalation.

Rozak Engineering will do more tests in September, mostly of water.

"Groundwater doesn't appear to be moving through the site, but it seeps into holes if you dig them," said Rozak. "We will be putting in monitor wells where water might drain off the property."

Rozak said a complete written report will be done in October. No recommendations regarding cleanup will be made until then.

The residents of the community will hold a meeting to discuss the test results, after which they will decide what to do next.

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