Study finds spilled jet fuel poses no environmental threat

Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A new study has found that the 103,000 gallons of spilled jet fuel not recovered from last winter's derailment near Talkeetna poses little threat to human health.

But the spilled fuel will contaminate groundwater and the nearby Susitna River for years to come, according to the study by scientists with the University of Alaska.

The study was commissioned by the Alaska Railroad and conducted by three engineering professors and a hydrology expert. It concluded hydrocarbons from the fuel either have or will soon reach the Susitna River.

How much might reach the river or how fast the experts couldn't say because of ''significant data gaps'' about the area's topography and groundwater. The compounds would quickly be diluted by the massive flow of the river, the report states.

The authors cautioned they need more data for a thorough analysis of the risk posed by the fuel.

Ernie Piper, railroad vice president for safety, hailed the report as a sign the spill posed low environmental risk.

''The important thing is there's no alarm bell going off,'' he said.

But state environmental officials said they remained concerned about potential threats posed to fish and other aquatic life. The compounds could affect salmon and the organisms fish eat, said Leslie Pearson, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

''We really don't know what the long-term effect may be for the fishery,'' she said.

Piper said the railroad commissioned the university study to get an independent review of the spill site. He agreed a more thorough analysis is needed, which he said the railroad will start this winter.

The report was done by Craig Woolard of the UAA engineering school; David Barnes and Daniel White of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UAF; and hydrologist Larry Acomb of Geosphere Inc.

The study is the latest of several since Dec. 22, when a train carrying fuel from the Williams refinery at North Pole to Anchorage jumped the tracks at Gold Creek northwest of Talkeetna and dumped 120,000 gallons of fuel into the wilderness.

So far, the railroad has spent about $10 million to clean up the site, including $9 million in federal funds, Piper said.

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