DEC reports small fuel spill in Bethel

by Mark Arehart on May 9, 2013

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation reported a small fuel spill in Bethel. Officials say an unknown person or persons caused the spill by tampering with a fuel line at an Orutsararmuit Native Council building.

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ONC Executive Director Zach Brink said the spill happened sometime between April 20th-23rd.

He said someone attempted to steal fuel oil from the ONC multipurpose building’s holding tank, causing the tank to leak onto the ground below.

“It was caused by either vandalism or theft, and whoever was involved in it left a connection that leaked,” said DEC Environmental Specialist Bob Carleson. He said the spill was a small one, about 5-10 gallons of diesel.

DEC received a complaint from a City Sub resident who smelled diesel fuel near the building.

ONC workers noticed the spill before it was reported to DEC, Carlson said, and cleaned up some of the spill with special absorbent pads.

“But there was still some oil there. There was still some adsorbent pads that we use to clean up oil spills. There was contaminated soil and contaminated grass as well,” he said. “You don’t want to be smelling, inhaling it. You don’t want to be touching it. You don’t want kids, pets to get into it. And you don’t want it running off into wetlands.”

The department has cleaned up most of the fuel and taken samples, but more will have to be done in the future to make sure it’s all gone.

“It will involve removing any more oil that may surface there as things warm up. Removing the vegetation, incinerating that. And then, when the ground thaws, they’ll have to remove some of the soil and that will be treated.”

Carlson said ONC workers disposed of used absorbent pads in the Bethel landfill before they contacted his department.

Carlson said the few pads they disposed of shouldn’t have a dramatic effect on the environment, but, “The problem is cumulatively if people continue to do this, throw inappropriate materials into the landfill, down the road you could have leaching of this stuff out of the landfill. Particularly as things warm up and the delta and permafrost melt.”

He encouraged people to report these kinds of spills to his office in Bethel or call the DEC’s 24-hour-hotline.

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