Propane traces found in groundwater | SierraSun.com

Propane traces found in groundwater

Christina Nelson

Photo by Colin Fisher.Workers continue to remove spilled propane from an AmeriGas location on Donner Pass Road.

A propane leak that closed a portion of Truckee for almost three weeks seems to be under control, but recent test results showing propane in groundwater has brought up the issue of environmental health and safety.

Test so far have shown the propane extraction system set up last Wednesday has been working, but water quality concerns linger as health and environment officials confirmed propane in water samples near the leak site.

“Typically this wouldn’t be a water quality issue,” said Tammy Lundquist of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. “There’s no toxicity standard for propane and it typically doesn’t go into ground water.”

Lundquist said Lahontan will continue to monitor groundwater to figure out what to do next. She said drinking water will not be affected by the leak because there are no wells in the area.

“This is a highly unusual situation,” she said, pointing out that most information on propane says the gas is not soluble.

Janet Mann of Nevada County Environmental Health said her agency is only responsible for making sure AmeriGas has a proper business plan on file. The business plan outlines company procedures for dealing with an emergency.

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“Business plan inspections are fairly minor,” Mann said. “For something like this, the plan is flushed.”

Mann said the small amount of propane found in the water is an environmental hazard, not a health hazard.

After almost three weeks of propane leak damage control and cleanup, emergency response teams and environmental officials finally seemed to be breathing a sigh of relief.

“You know, I came in with bad news last time – I have no bad news now,” John Bradley of H2O Environmental said Friday, two days after crews had set up a system to extract propane vapors from the soil under Donner Pass Road.

The leak was first detected on Jan. 23, when an employee at Granite Chief, a retail ski store, smelled ethyl mercaptan, a propane additive that gives it a distinct smell. The additive is designed as warning system for leaks.

The fire department found explosive levels of propane in the store and evacuated employees and other area businesses. A faulty pipe at the AmeriGas propane station was later identified as the source of the leak.

Although officials have not been able to quantify the amount of propane that has been released into the soil, AmeriGas is unable to account for approximately 22,000 gallons of propane since March of 2002.

H2O Environmental’s extraction system has been effective so far, sucking vapors from the ground and mixing oxygen with the vapor before it’s released into the atmosphere, but Bradley cannot estimate how much propane has been removed from the soil.

“We don’t know how much was lost straight out into the atmosphere,” Bradley said.

Officials hope to have Donner Pass Road open by Thursday night and Dairy Queen, which has been closed for three weeks, open sometime this weekend.

Sierra Mountain Middle School was opened Monday after closing for a week because of propane in the area, and the fire department has installed $10,000 worth of propane detectors in the school.

The fire department and H2O Environmental will be monitoring sites near the AmeriGas station “indefinitely” for traces of propane.

“For quite a long time there’s going to be a firefighter walking around and checking,” Truckee Fire Chief Mike Terwilliger said.