DEQ cites Colonial Pipeline for gasoline spill, material includes cancer-causing chemicals

Colonial Pipeline ships gasoline and other petroleum through a 5,500-mile pipeline through the Southeast en route to New Jersey. (Map: Colonial Pipeline)

The cancer-causing compound benzene has been detected in groundwater  from an Aug. 14 gasoline spill in Huntersville, prompted state regulators to cite Colonial Pipeline, which is responsible for the accident.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality announced today that it has issued a notice of violation for impacts to groundwater as a result of the 273,000-gallon spill. So far, DEQ has not fined the company, but wrote in the citation that it could assess civil penalties in the future.

Other chemicals detected in groundwater are xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene. Ethylbenzene exposure has also been linked to cancer, according to federal health officials. Depending on the dose and length of exposure, all four chemicals can harm the neurological system.

Neighbors of the spill have been concerned in particular about benzene in the groundwater. At a community meeting in Huntersville earlier this month, a Colonial Pipeline representative dodged questions about whether benzene was among the contaminants. The representative, Greg Glaze, told attendees that the gasoline was the “same that goes in your car.”

“Out of an abundance of caution,” DEQ said it has also directed that Colonial Pipeline sample its onsite monitoring wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, because the material that was used to minimize flammable vapors was found to contain PFAS compounds.

DEQ has also determined that “the risk posed by the discharge or release at the subject site is high.”

Colonial is testing drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of the spill, which occurred off Huntersville-Concord Road in the Oehler Nature Preserve. So far, the company has reported no petroleum detections in the drinking water wells, but the groundwater and soil is contaminated.

Colonial Pipeline has estimated that 96,557 gallons of the gasoline — or just a third of the estimated total — has been recovered.

The cause of the spill was a break in a portion of the 42-year-old pipeline that had been previously repaired in 2004, according to Colonial’s required 30-day report to federal regulators. Two 15-year-old boys riding ATVs in the Oehler Nature Preserve discovered the spill.

DEQ is requiring Colonial to take other remedial action:

  • Restore groundwater quality to the standards protective of human health and the environment;
  • Submit detailed reports monthly that include soil sampling, surface water and water supply well sampling results, groundwater flow, public water system hook-ups for residents, status of free product recovery efforts, and soil excavation, transportation and disposal records.; and
  • Submit a Comprehensive Site Assessment report by Jan. 20, 2021.

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