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Gas contamination cleanup effective but at high price

Andy Bourelle

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is pleased with the contamination cleanup plan of South Lake Tahoe’s USA Gas Station. However, the acceptable plan came at a price – $292,500.

Although Lahontan received an acceptable plan last week, the regional board has issued an administrative civil liability – or fine – of $292,500 to the station’s owners, USA Petroleum out of Agoura Hills, Calif.

USA was out of compliance with Lahontan’s Cleanup and Abatement Order since November 1997, according to Lisa Dernbach, associate engineering geologist for the regional board.

“They submitted a plan to clean up all of the contamination, and we are very pleased” Dernbach said. “The fine is for past violations.”

Dernbach said Lahontan believes that the underground storage tanks at the station have been leaking since the controversial gasoline additive MTBE was detected in the area in September 1997.

Last month, Lahontan urged USA to shut down for one day to check for leaks, according to Dernbach. USA Petroleum agreed, and environmental officials from El Dorado County found a leak and forced the gas station to close.

New underground storage tanks are being installed, and El Dorado County will have the authority to decide when the station can begin serving gasoline again.

The contamination plume coming from USA is 1,500 feet long, and Dernbach said officials have conducted tests to determine that the other gas stations in that area are not responsible.

Six of the South Tahoe Public Utility District’s drinking water wells are affected by the plume.

According to STPUD Information Officer Dawn Forsythe, recent tests have revealed that all six of the wells – some of which were known to be contaminated and some which were believed to be – are, in fact, contaminated with trace amounts of the additive.

The Tata Lane well No. 4 was closed in July. Connected to an air stripper that successfully treated the water for several months, district officials finally closed it down when MTBE levels reached 37 parts per billion at the site and small traces were found in the treated water.

Tata wells Nos. 1, 2 and 3, which were closed in August because of their close proximity to the plume, now have between 0.12 and 0.22 parts per billion of MTBE. The South “Y” well, which has been on standby, has MTBE at levels of 0.11 parts per billion. MTBE at 0.25 parts per billion was found in the district’s Julie well. Although it also is connected to the air stripper, officials shut it down last week.

California has set an action level for MTBE at 35 parts per billion.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive that is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent. At low levels, between 15 and 40 parts per billion, people can detect MTBE in water. It smells and tastes like turpentine.

A total of 12 of STPUD’s 34 wells have been shut down because of MTBE contamination or the threat of contamination. The district’s 13,000 customers faced water-usage restrictions for a significant part of the summer. However, with the end of the busy tourist season, those restrictions were lifted Sept. 12.

Also last week, Lahontan issued a $6,000 fine against Ultramar, Inc., because South Lake Tahoe’s Beacon Gas Station was not complying with part of the regional board’s Cleanup and Abatement Order.

The gas station has been in compliance. However, it’s remediation process was out of operation for six days, and Lahontan was not notified.

The plume at South Lake Tahoe Beacon Gas Station is not from a leaking tank. A customer drove off while the gas nozzle was connected to his car, spilling gasoline at the site.

Lahontan has administered fines for underground storage tank leaks only once before. The Meyers Beacon, which has been forced to shut down by El Dorado County, currently faces an $84,000 fine.

Lahontan has the authority to fine no less than $500 and no more than $5,000 per day for the violations.

For 292 days of violation, USA Petroleum could have faced administrative civil liability for $1.46 million.

affected by the plume.

According to STPUD Information Officer Dawn Forsythe, recent tests have revealed that all six of the wells – some of which were known to be contaminated and some which were believed to be – are, in fact, contaminated with trace amounts of the additive.

The Tata Lane well No. 4 was closed in July. Connected to an air stripper that successfully treated the water for several months, district officials finally closed it down when MTBE levels reached 37 parts per billion at the site and small traces were found in the treated water.

Tata wells Nos. 1, 2 and 3, which were closed in August because of their close proximity to the plume, now have between 0.12 and 0.22 parts per billion of MTBE. The South “Y” well, which has been on standby, has MTBE at levels of 0.11 parts per billion. MTBE at 0.25 parts per billion was found in the district’s Julie well. Although it also is connected to the air stripper, officials shut it down last week.

California has set an action level for MTBE at 35 parts per billion.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive that is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent. At low levels, between 15 and 40 parts per billion, people can detect MTBE in water. It smells and tastes like turpentine.

A total of 12 of STPUD’s 34 wells have been shut down because of MTBE contamination or the threat of contamination. The district’s 13,000 customers faced water-usage restrictions for a significant part of the summer. However, with the end of the busy tourist season, those restrictions were lifted Sept. 12.

Also last week, Lahontan issued a $6,000 fine against Ultramar, Inc., because South Lake Tahoe’s Beacon Gas Station was not complying with part of the regional board’s Cleanup and Abatement Order.

The gas station has been in compliance. However, it’s remediation process was out of operation for six days, and Lahontan was not notified.

The plume at South Lake Tahoe Beacon Gas Station is not from a leaking tank. A customer drove off while the gas nozzle was connected to his car, spilling gasoline at the site.

Lahontan has administered fines for underground storage tank leaks only once before. The Meyers Beacon, which has been forced to shut down by El Dorado County, currently faces an $84,000 fine.

Lahontan has the authority to fine no less than $500 and no more than $5,000 per day for the violations.

For 292 days of violation, USA Petroleum could have faced administrative civil liability for $1.46 million.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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