VA - Failed alarm makes fuel spill worse : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Thursday, September 28, 2000 About 9,400 gallons of gasoline leaked from Montvale storage tank Monday Failed alarm makes fuel spill worse

The tank, owned by Citgo Corp. and managed by BP Amoco Oil Co., was being filled. All leaked fuel was contained by a dike, said the terminal's manager.

By JAY CONLEY The Roanoke Times

Faulty safety equipment is being blamed for a major gasoline leak at the BP Amoco storage and distribution terminal in Montvale.

About 10 p.m. Monday, about 9,400 gallons of gasoline leaked from a vent near the top of a storage tank owned by Citgo Corp. and managed by BP Amoco Oil Co. The tank was being filled at the time, and a safety system designed to detect leaks and sound an alarm failed to operate, said Donna King, the terminal's manager.

A second alarm did operate as the tank's volume increased, at which point terminal employees stopped filling the tank.

Gas continued to leak from the tank until the fuel level inside it dropped below the vent.

"We're not sure exactly how it happened," King said.

King said all of the gas that leaked out was contained by a dike surrounding the tank, which is one of four Citgo tanks about an eighth of a mile from U.S. 460.

The Montvale Fire Department and a hazardous materials cleanup unit from Roanoke were called immediately, King said.

As a precaution, a family living on a neighboring farm was evacuated for a few hours.

The spill is the largest in recent history. In 1982, an overflowing storage tank leaked 62,500 gallons of gasoline. Fumes permeated the air and caused nearby residents to be evacuated.

On Monday, Meagan Bayse said she and her co-worker smelled gas while working the night shift at the Lancer Mart that borders the terminal, but weren't concerned about it.

"It stunk of gas" outside, said Bayse, but she said it often smells of gas on that stretch of U.S. 460 near the terminal, where tanker trucks regularly stop to fill up.

King describes the spill as minimal, considering the tank's 2.1 million-gallon capacity, but said it is company procedure to immediately notify the state's Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency whenever there is a spill. Officials from both agencies are overseeing the cleanup.

Bedford County's chief building inspector, Tom Tomsic, however, called the leak "a major spill." Tomsic said the tank's alarm system was functioning properly when it was checked Sept. 14 in a routine monthly inspection, and was working when he manually checked it Tuesday, after the leak.

"The alarm is in working condition," Tomsic said Wednesday. "For some reason, it wasn't activated" Monday night when the leak occurred.

According to King, an engineer from Citgo's corporate headquarters in Chicago will be in Montvale today to inspect the tank, and a cause could be determined by Friday.

Tomsic said Citgo must file a report with the county detailing the cause of the failure and repair of the faulty alarm before the tank can be filled to capacity.

"The county's not going to let them put product back in there until there is some verification that it works properly," said Tomsic.

Tomsic was complimentary of Citgo's cleanup effort.

"Everything that needed to be done is being done," he said.

King said it was fortunate that standing rainwater at the bottom of the dike left the gasoline floating on top of it.

"It's a slow process, but it's easier to skim the gasoline off the top of the water," he said.

Tomsic said that because the rainwater prevented most of the gas from hitting the dike's clay liner, he expects the environmental impact to be minimal.

Between Tuesday morning and Wednesday, three tanker trucks took the mixture of gas and water collected from the site to a recycling facility near Richmond to be processed.

Cleanup crews were nearly finished Wednesday, King said, and could be seen carrying away barrels filled with absorbent cloths used to soak up the remaining fuel.

-- Doris (, September 28, 2000

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