Contributed by Steve Grammas, Senior Project Geologist, PPM Consultants
One of the largest releases of gasoline from an underground storage tank (UST) system was discovered in the State of Alabama based on analysis of one soil sample. Following guidelines set forth by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) for an In-Place Product Pipe Closure Assessment, soil samples for analysis for total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) are required to be collected when product piping associated with a UST system is replaced or removed. Analysis of one soil sample collected near the gasoline dispenser of a family owned service station contained a TPH concentration that exceeded the maximum contaminant level of 100 parts per million.
After reviewing the closure assessment, ADEM required a preliminary investigation to determine the extent of petroleum contamination in the soil and groundwater at the service station. It’s during this time that PPM became involved as the environmental consultant for the owners of this full service gas station. That’s right, I said “full service gas station” where someone comes to your car, pumps your gas, cleans your windows, and checks your tires. Anyone remember those days when that practice was common place? If you do, then I’m sorry. You’re Old like me!
This particular service station is well known in its City and at one time had the persona of “Floyds Barber Shop” in the Andy Griffith Show where local folks convene in the morning to chat over a cup of coffee or sometimes late Friday afternoons for a brew after a long work week. Many of the patrons and friends of the owner of the service station (like Andy and Barney) were in law enforcement. In addition to automobile repairs, the service station also provides a towing service for local police and fire departments.
Tragically, one Saturday morning the owner was the victim of a senseless murder at the station. The results of which left managing and operations of the station to his two daughters. The former owner was a beloved husband and father and during his years at the station developed many local friendships.
Uncomfortable situations often arise in the environmental consulting profession. In the midst of losing their father and facing uncertainty of the future of the service station, PPM had to inform the family that a fee, in the form of a $5,000 deductible was required by ADEM to conduct a preliminary subsurface investigation. From an environmental consultant’s point of view, the fee of $5,000 is reasonable and makes good sense to pay because the Alabama Tank Trust Fund (if the tank owner is within regulatory compliance) covers up to two million dollars in remaining cost(s) for future investigative actions and environmental cleanup. But at the time, from the client’s small family business perspective, it was an unexpected and unwanted expense.
PPM’s project team felt empathy for this family who were soon to be educated about the environmental world of groundwater contamination; like, what geologists, drill crews and environmental technicians do and what the presence of gasoline on top groundwater (free product) means. And by the way, your station property will be soon be decorated with numerous monitoring wells encased in concrete pads. Not to mention, the type of remediation system that may be required. Oh, what was that you asked? How large an area on your property do I need for the remediation equipment and how long will it take to clean up the soil and groundwater?
PPM prides itself in rapid remediation to get the project done efficiently and economically. That is how success has come for PPM in the remediation universe. However, in some cases, due to extent of contamination, geologic or hydrogeologic conditions or sensitive receptors, it can take several years to clean up soil and groundwater at a contaminated site. That was the case with this project which allowed plenty of time to form a lasting relationship with a client who was very gracious and patient with all the property inconveniences that comes with the work we do. A few things have changed over time. The service station no longer sells gas but seems to be thriving on small auto repairs and towing services. This shows the entrepreneurial spirit of a family business is not easily swayed!
Groundwater analysis from a network of a total of 42 monitoring wells installed on and offsite of the service station revealed an approximately 800 foot long and up to 200 foot wide plume of dissolved hydrocarbons that extends from the service station beneath a U.S. four lane highway and adjacent commercial properties. Currently, PPM is managing on-site and off-site remediation systems consisting of dual phase vacuum extraction (DPVE) utilizing extraction wells, ozone sparging via a network of sparge points, and air and soil vapor extraction (AS/VE) utilizing 300-foot-long horizontal wells.
In retrospect, the client can clearly see the $5,000 deductible triggered significant purchasing power via the Alabama Tank Trust Fund. It turns out multiple releases took place at this facility over the course of 50 plus years. The total cost of remediation at this facility will exceed $5 million. It looks like the $5,000 investment was a pretty good deal and definitely saved the family business which continues to thrive.