DEQ checks soil/water for gasoline contamination

Published 8:24 am Saturday, November 20, 2004

By By SPIROS GALLOS / Niles Daily Star
NILES - The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is conducting a project to investigate contamination in underground water sources near the location of old gas stations in Niles.
Workers from Landmark Technologies Environmental and Engineering Solutions of Benton Harbor, began taking soil and ground water samples Thursday in the area bordered by Main and Sycamore streets on the south and north and Fourth and Fifth streets on the west and east.
The land was home to a number of gas stations in past years. The DEQ project is focusing on possible contamination from underground gas tanks which belonged to Gary's Union 76 gas station.
While taking soil and ground water samples Thursday, Glendening discovered what is known as free-phase gasoline. Free-phase gasoline is a pocket of gas floating on top of an underground water source.
The DEQ is now conducting tests to examine the extent of the contamination, measuring gasoline levels in various areas near the free-phase gasoline, and attempting to determine the source of the contamination.
After examining the extent of the contamination, the DEQ will be able to determine if there is a threat of gasoline seeping into the St. Joseph River, the closest surface water body.
DEQ project manager Deb Clarke said there is no danger of contamination to the St. Joseph River at the present time because the river is relatively far from the contamination.
The discovery of the free-phase gasoline indicates though, there is a potential danger to the area, Clarke said.
Because the pocket of gas is a continuing source, meaning it will not dissipate, there is a chance it will continue to dissolve into the groundwater, leading to further ground contamination.
Clarke said the only way to remove the free-phase gasoline as a threat is to take measures to remove it.
Glendening said the contamination poses little threat to drinking water sources in the area because the contamination is limited to ground water and won't affect the city water lines, which the city draws its water from.
Similar projects are being conducted throughout southwest Michigan.
There are approximately 75 similar projects being conducted throughout the Kalamazoo district, Clarke said. The district is compromised of eight counties: Berrien, Cass, Calhoun, Van Buren, Allegan, St. Joseph, Branch, and Kalamazoo.
There is a possibility the source of the contamination is an underground gas tank which was never removed, Clarke said.
Glendening said there are about 10 monitoring wells in the area which were created to draw water samples from to examine the extent of the contamination.
Clarke said the project will last as long as it needed to determine the source and extent of the contamination.