Fumes, oil linger nearly a month after spill

Fumes, oil linger nearly a month after spill

Not long after an address mix-up left a Colonial Avenue home swimming in oil last month, neighbor Rebecca Eichler began smelling diesel fumes in the storm sewers.

Around the same time another neighbor began drawing up buckets of oil in his sump pump, she said. Now she wants to know the extent of the damage and ensure similar mistakes are avoided. 

Im concerned about the effects of this oil, Eichler said. I smell it in the storm drain and I live half a block down.

A Griffith Energy Services deliveryman mistakenly pumped about 325 gallons of home heating oil into the Colonial Avenue home on August 24. Charged with restoring damage from the spill, the company has since hired an environmental contractor to handle the project. 

Officials initially said the hazardous liquid went down a drain and into the citys sanitary sewer system, causing only damage to the immediate basement. But further investigation revealed the oil spread farther than originally thought. 

While it appears no oil reached nearby storm drains the environmental services department found no traces of petroleum in the pipes oil did seep into a neighboring basement and the ground below the brick home, said Robert Rodriguez, spokesman for the citys fire department.

It traveled out of the drain that went to the sanitary sewer, he said. We dont know how it migrated out of the pipe; thats being investigated.

Officials believe vapors from the original spill may have drifted and collected in the storm drains, said city spokesman Tony Castrilli. A couple of weeks of low rainfall meant the odor lingered longer, he said.

We hope the next rainfall and time will take care of [the vapor] issue, Castrilli said.

City and state officials cant put a price tag on the spills damage, but are tracking cleanup efforts. Alexandrias environmental services unit and Virginias Department of Environmental Quality are overseeing the cleanup. 

John Geise, petroleum programs remediation manager with DEQ, said the standard of cleanup after an oil spill varies from case to case. Multiple variables are taken into account, he said. 

Its all based on measuring the extent of the contamination, Geise said. From that we look at what are the receptors [of contamination]: someones basement, service water, the contamination could flow into a stream or someones well. We look at what the risk is to those receptors posed by the contamination and based upon that assessment we would direct the responsible party to clean up to some specified level.

The case manager for the Colonial Avenue spill, James Greene, could not be reached for comment.

Eichler just wants to make sure Griffith learned their lesson the first time. No other neighborhood should suffer a similar situation, she said. 

It seems that there should be checks in place on something like this. Double, double, double check the house youre delivering it too, Eichler said. I guess its dissipated somewhat, but this is an environmental concern in the neighborhood. We smell fumes.

In the meantime, officials urge anyone else who smells diesel vapors or finds a problem with the cleanup to contact the authorities at 703-746-4200.