Four Minnesota towns get state money to survey oil spill sites – InForum
BRAINERD — Four Minnesota towns are receiving state funding to analyze whether leaded gasoline from leaking storage tanks is putting their drinking water at risk.
The Legislative Assembly approved $200,000 to investigate oil spill sites in Paynesville, Alexandria, Foley and Blaine.
The additional study comes on the heels of a former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency employee who filed a whistleblower lawsuit last year against his former employer.
Mark Toso raised questions about the state’s petroleum cleanup program where he had worked as a hydrologist for a decade, and whether it was doing enough to prevent leaded gasoline from contaminating groundwater.
Toso’s trial is still pending. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have authorized $200,000 for Paynesville to take the initiative to hire a consultant to analyze the extent of leaded gasoline contamination and the threat it poses to the drinking water supply of each city.
Paynesville Mayor Shawn Reinke called the funding “good news for the city.” He said the additional analysis will help answer lingering questions from city officials about the site.
“This is just a study, just an analysis, to see if more soil removal would be beneficial and cost-effective,” Reinke said.
Contamination in Paynesville, originating from underground tanks at a former gas station, was first discovered in the 1980s. Petroleum chemicals seeped into groundwater and forced the city to shut down two of its wells. The MPCA replaced the wells.
City officials urged the MPCA to dig up the site and remove the contaminated soil, which the agency resisted. In 2015, the Legislative Assembly allocated up to $2.5 million for a treatment system to remove chemicals from city water.
The city recently had its water supply independently tested and found it to be potable, Reinke said.
“We did it out of an abundance of caution, knowing there might be some raised eyebrows with the trial allegations,” he said.
However, the MPCA disagrees that further study is needed.
The agency is monitoring the Paynesville site and is confident the plume is not moving or contaminating the city’s drinking water, said Jamie Wallerstedt, director of the MPCA’s sanitation division.
About 1,500 cubic meters of contaminated soil was removed from the Paynesville site in 1990. Follow-up studies found it was not possible or necessary to remove more soil from the ground, Wallerstedt said.
Early warning detection monitoring wells between the oil site and the Paynesville drinking water system would alert the agency if the contaminant plume got closer, Wallerstedt said.
“We are watching this closely,” she said. “The contamination is stable, and it is not making its way into the city’s drinking water.”
The same is true for oil spill sites in the other three cities, she said.
Wallerstedt said the MPCA is willing to review the consultant’s information and recommendations and determine if a change in plan is necessary. However, she added, “cleaning beyond what is necessary comes at a cost”.
In February, the Office of the Legislative Auditor released an assessment of the oil cleanup program that called for better regulation and oversight of consultants hired to work at oil spill sites.
He also said that when considering whether to process a release, the agency does not consider how a property might be used in the future.
Wallerstedt said the MPCA is taking steps to address the report’s recommendations, including improving how it tracks and monitors low-risk leaks. She said the quality of contractors affects the agency’s handling of leak sites.
“We are confident that the decisions made at our sites are sound and protect the health of Minnesotans,” she said.
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