South Bibb jet fuel cleanup progressing slowly

Second cleanup stalled

hduncan@macon.comOctober 30, 2012 

Although progress continues on a decades-old jet fuel cleanup in south Bibb County, cleanup of a related spill has been delayed. Environmental regulators say some residents in the area have chosen to continue using well water, but their water is being tested regularly to be sure it’s safe to drink.

The pollution comes from an 11-mile pipeline supplying Robins Air Force Base with jet fuel from a bulk fuel storage terminal in south Macon. Although the company didn’t own the pipeline when the leaks occurred, NuStar Energy of San Antonio bought it in 2005 and voluntarily began cleaning up the pollution.

The company has been using a soil vapor extraction system since 2009 to remove benzene and other contaminants from ground water in the Feagin Road area, and it installed and began operating an expansion to that system in February, said spokesman Chris Cho.

The company had planned to install the same kind of system in 2011 to clean up a similar-sized spill in the Barnes Ferry Road area. That project was first delayed for a property acquisition. Then, although the equipment was installed in February, it couldn’t be operated due to problems getting a specialized type of power to the system, Cho said. He said NuStar has been working with Georgia Power to resolve the problem and expects to start operating the system by the end of the year.

Keith Bentley, chief of the land protection branch of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said about 20 homes along Barnes Ferry Road have been connected to municipal water due to the jet fuel spill. NuStar paid to cap and abandon eight of the wells with the residents’ approval, he said.

Although EPD has pushed for plugging and abandoning the wells, many residents will only agree to switch to municipal water if they can retain the option of going back to their well, Bentley said.

Those who stayed on well water receive regular water testing, and no contamination outside safe limits has been found, he said.

Bentley said about 18,200 pounds of volatile organic compounds have been removed from the ground water by the Feagin Road soil vapor extraction system, and about 4,500 gallons of fuel have been skimmed from ground water. Volatile organic compounds are the components of jet fuel that can cause chronic health problems if ingested.

Cho said NuStar is sampling ground water around Feagin Road twice a year and plans to continue running the extraction system until enough contamination has been removed to justify shutting it down.

NuStar has spent $400,000 on cleanup activities at the Feagin Road spill and $550,000 on cleanup activities at the Barnes Ferry Road spill within the last year alone, Cho said.

“NuStar is committed to environmental stewardship and being a good neighbor, so we will continue to do what is necessary until the cleanup is complete,” Cho said in an e-mail.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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