The Department of Environmental Quality may hold St. Joe Oil financially liable for contaminants discovered under Railroad Avenue.
Rudy Brandvold, St. Joe Oil manager, said that he believes the contamination is from other sources.
“George Currier, a former member of the St. Maries City Council, found information in city council minutes about a major oil spill from a rail car in July of 1918.” Mr. Brandvold said. “It could have been as much as 30,000 gallons.”
According to a letter signed by DEQ Waste Management Compliance Office Dean Kinney, St. Joe Oil is a possible source due to the proximity of the business to the site, but no direct link is confirmed.
“Petroleum impacted soil was observed in a trench adjacent to the St. Joe Oil facility. The soil was sampled and found to contain elevated petroleum concentrations of several constituents. St. Joe Oil may be legally and financially responsible for this release,” the DEQ letter said.
Oil contamination was discovered near St. Joe Oil and along Railroad Avenue during a sewer upgrade project for the city of St Maries.
Public records from the DEQ show that they suspect that a lack of concrete surfaces at St. Joe Oil could be to blame for the contamination.
Photographs taken by a DEQ employee highlighted outdoor pump stations, a bulk rack storage area and interior storage space that they said could allow oil seepage into the soil below.
According to the report, an outdoor bulk rack and an indoor storage area labeled bulk oil have no concrete to prevent seepage into the soil. Photos in the report also highlight the pump stations, some have concrete pads around them and others do not.
Photos taken from the DEQ were only from the outside by a person familiar with the site.
“From what I can remember, there is a crawl space below the storage area that is also soil and the floor is a wood slated floor,” the report said.
Mr. Brandvold said that he will cooperate with the DEQ and is continuing to review St. Joe Oil.
“We are still testing here on our site – but we do not believe the oil they found during construction came from our plant. We’ve had our plant tested two previous times and it always came back clean.”
Initial test results of the soil samples taken from the trench along Railroad Ave. and a second sample from a stockpile of collected soil, show concentrated amounts of benzene, ethylbenzene and naphthalene that exceed acceptable screening levels.
According to an online dictionary, benzene is a component of crude oil; ethylbenzene is a highly flammable, colorless liquid with an odor like gasoline, and naphthalene is derived from the distillation of coal tar.
Ethylbenzene was likely the chemical that first alerted crews to the presence of contamination.
“While excavating on Railroad Ave. the crew noticed the smell of petroleum products in the trench…”an internal DEQ email said.
Lab test results show amounts are measured in milligrams per kilogram. Acceptable levels are listed for vapor intrusion, direct contact, and groundwater protection. Vapor intrusion refers to below ground sources of indoor air pollution that may enter structures through cracks or other openings in a foundation including plumbing and sewer lines and electric conduits.
Ethylbenzene levels were highest of the three with concentrations of 32.8mg per kilogram, exceeding the vapor intrusion threshold of .25mg per kg, and the groundwater protection threshold of 7.4mg per kg.
Napthalene levels were less than 3mg per kg. Benzene levels were less than 2mg per kg.
None of the chemical concentrations in the soil samples exceeded the threshold for direct contact.
St. Joe Oil is in the process of inspecting their site for possible contamination sources. They have 45 days to complete the inspection and report their findings to the DEQ.
“Environmental Quality will determine whether further investigation and corrective action is required,” Mr. Kinney said.