Contamination investigated and remediation is under way

51_dirt-9924CONTAMINATION REMOVAL  – Prewett Excavation and Construction works to remove contaminated soil from the parking lot at Frontline Ag.  I-O Photo by Deanna Wakkinen

By Deanna Wakkinen, I-O Reporter

The Department of Environmental Quality has been investigating, through the services of Montana Salinity Control Association, located at 315 S. Main, contamination that lies within our soil.

The contamination comes mostly from gasoline that has leaked from pre-existing stations and bulk fuel plants. Investigators are looking for benezene, an organic chemical compound which now has limited use in gasoline. It is an important industrial solvent and precursor to basic industrial chemicals including drugs, plastics, synthetic rubber and dyes.

Benzene is a colorless and highly flammable liquid with a sweet smell. It is a known carcinogen. As a gasoline additive, benzene increases the octane rating and reduces knocking.

With the global phase-out of leaded gasoline, benzene has made a comeback as a gasoline additive in some nations. In the U.S., concerns over its negative health effects and the possibility of benzene entering the groundwater have led to stringent regulation of gasoline’s benzene content, with limits typically around one percent.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) stated in 1948 that “it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.” Long-term exposure to excessive levels of benzene in the air causes leukemia, a potentially fatal cancer of the blood-forming organs. About 50 percent of the entire nationwide exposure to benzene results from smoking tobacco or from exposure to tobacco smoke.

Testing in Conrad began about a year and a half ago when wells were put in. The wells were monitored for an entire year. The fear is that the contamination will eat into the rubber gaskets underground and contaminate the city water.

The city hired Maximum Technologies to investigate the waterlines.

Air and soil samples are also being taken. One air sample will even be taken at the I-O this month.

If contamination is found in the air, an air ventilation system will be installed.

Currently there are four sites that will be going through the clean-up stage. Underway is the soil removal at Frontline Ag. Blackened soil is visible and all will be removed and taken to the landfill. New dirt is being brought in and Ron Prewett with Prewett Excavation and Construction Inc. is heading the project.

Other locations that will soon be facing soil removal are the Skipwith building that is rented by Ron Widhalm and is located across the street from Conrad Tire, Dan’s Tire Service located next to Radioshack, and the old location of the old Texaco station. There are four homes located next to the Skipwith building and they will also have to go through the investigation.

A grant has been awarded to the Department of Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Board and they are helping landowners with the testing and removal process. Each business still has to pay $17,500 for the process.

This clean-up effort is state and nationwide.

Town Pump and Mountain View Co-op have gone through a similar process to this in years past.

Scott Brown from Salinity Control commented that there is still “a lot of unknown” but hopes to have the project completed by the end of this summer. He also commented that “it’s a big mess.”