EPA Responds Quickly to Protect Tribal Community

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By Martin McComb

Many people equate emergency response with large natural disasters and accidents that make the news. While these actions are important, most emergency responses involve actions that protect people and ecosystems from far more common incidents.

In May 2012, people on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana reported strong gasoline odors near a busy intersection and a steady stream of gasoline emanating from the banks of nearby Sundance Creek.

Officials from the Chippewa Cree Tribe notified the National Response Center and my EPA team quickly mobilized to the site. When we arrived, we determined that the discharge started under a leaky service pump at a nearby gas station and then flowed underneath the station and into the creek. A review of sales records from the station indicated that store managers could not account for roughly 70,000 gallons of fuel.

Picture of waste removal.

To stabilize the situation, the Tribe closed the gas station and removed the service pumps and the gasoline that remained in storage.  Because gasoline vapors can be toxic, my team established a network of instruments to monitor air quality at several nearby residences, businesses and a school. We investigated an adjacent wetland to verify that contamination did not extend to the opposite side of Sundance Creek.

With the U.S. Coast Guard providing technical advice and support, my team began excavation work along Sundance Creek where we discovered a 4-foot thick layer of contaminated soil sitting directly atop the water table. We eventually removed over 7000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and transported it to a former landfill a few miles away from the gas station. The Tribe is now regularly tilling this soil to dissipate the contamination.

The collaborative effort between our team, the Chippewa Cree Tribe, and the U.S. Coast Guard led to a rapid response and an effective cleanup that minimized impacts to surface and ground water and prevented exposure to dangerous vapors to people. My team and others like it at EPA, stand ready to protect our communities and our environment.

About the author:  Martin McComb is a 14-year veteran of EPA and currently serves as an On-Scene Coordinator in Emergency Response.

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