Powder River Examiner -

30 Years Ago

From the Examiner Files


Thursday, July 19, 1990

Hydrocarbon contamination found in downtown area

Wide-spread hydrocarbon (fossil fuels) contamination has been found in both air and soil samples taken from downtown Broadus.

Hydrocarbons cover the wide range of fossil fuel products, including all types of gasoline, diesel and home heating fuel, and cleaning solvents.

The contamination of soils may also be causing the air pollution problem which has forced the evacuation of the Town Office, but no direct connection has yet been established.

Results of air sample tests taken at the Town Office several weeks ago showed a 30 parts-per-million presence of hydrocarbons. Monday, soil and air samples taken from around underground fuel tanks at the Park Avenue T.V., formerly Shamley’s Texaco Service Station, showed an extremely high level of hydrocarbon contamination… more than 300 parts-per-million. Similar results came from soil tests taken from around underground storage tanks removed from Harold Miller’s old Standard Service Station, located a block south of Park Avenue T.V.

Three tanks were removed from in front of the Park Ave. T.V. Monday, and four more were removed from the old Standard Station Tuesday. Evacuation of several more tanks at Ken Jesse’s shop and further soil and air testing were scheduled for Wednesday.

Bill Hammer of the Montana Underground Storage Tank Bureau was on hand to supervise the mandated removal of the storage tanks, and took air and soil samples from the sites.

“We found hydrocarbons down about eight feet… 300 parts or better per million,” said Hammer. When asked what an acceptable ratio would be, the official said there should be very little hydrocarbons present, if any at all.

Mike Trombetta of the Bureau in Helena said that the testing device that Hammer is using probably peaks at about 300 parts-per-million, which suggests that the contamination ratio may be much higher.

At any rate, the level is alarming.

“He (Hammer) said it was like putting his testing device in a gas tank,” said Park Ave. T.V. co-owner Bob McCurdy, who is also co-owner of the property the business is located on.

“We’re still in the process of trying to find out the extent of the problem and if there is more than one source. There is really no one to blame for the problem, and there is no way to tell if the problems occurred recently or if they occurred some years ago,” said Hammer.

The official said he could detect no leaks in the tanks removed so far. He added, however, that small leaks are hard to locate, and that even a small hole could cause serious contamination if undetected over a long period of time. If one or two drops per second leaked from a tank, that would add up to 438 gallons a year, he said. In the instance of a hole one-sixteenth of an inch, a pin-size hole, as much as 25,920 gallons of fuel could escape within a year. “It is unlikely that a hole that large could be present. But, a tiny, tiny hole under the pressure of six feet of gas… over ten years (the leakage) could be impressive.”

Some of the tanks removed were installed as long ago as the 1940s. There are no doubt other tanks around, possibly undetected, which may date back much longer.

Earlier, fuel tank leakage had been discovered at Farmers Union Oil Company. Fuel from that leakage however probably contaminated only soils on or near company property. Tests show ground water contamination is present. But, the Farmers Union is undertaking an extensive long-term project to recover and treat the water. The company is presently waiting for approval on what type of system to use from the Town Council before proceeding, according to manager Nancy Wetherelt.

The Farmers Union has contacted an independent consultant to find the extent of the problem, and take over decontamination projects. McCurdy had also contacted a separate consulting agency Monday.

The hydrocarbon contamination problem is not a new one in Broadus. Around the mid-1970s, the odor of gasoline nearly forced the evacuation of offices in the basement of the old county courthouse.

“They didn’t evacuate completely, but it got pretty bad. It was just the gas odor that was the worst,” said Powder River County Treasurer Gladys Linville. “I don’t really remember what happened… I guess it finally just kind of disappeared. But, I don’t think that was too long before we moved.”

The problem has not surfaced in the courthouse again, since the new building was built in 1980.

Also around the mid-70s, one well nearby the courthouse is said to have flowed a gas/water mixture for some time.

Meanwhile, Hammer said that the Bureau will continue to monitor soil and air samples, and the proper removal and disposals of soils from the sites thus far discovered. The soil will be hauled away to non-designated sites and new soil will be brought in. Perforated pipe will also be installed at the sites for continued testing of air samples.

“It would be extremely interesting to drill test holes around the whole area (downtown) and find out what’s down there,” said Hammer.

The Bureau has no jurisdiction to order such projects, however.

The official said that the pollution problem can be corrected, and went on to urge the importance of working together on the project, rather than pointing fingers or looking for someone to blame.

He said that the soil can be decontaminated over time by using vapor wells to vent out or extract the hydrocarbons in the soils. “Also, by going down to the water table and skimming the top off the water, it can be cleaned up.”


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