17
Sep

Fears for buildings after Canberra service station fuel leak contaminates soil and groundwater

  • The fuel leak at the Kippax service station was first discovered in February
  • The ACT Environment Protection Authority says there is no health risk posed by the site
  • But residents say they are worried nearby buildings will have to be demolished if the site is badly contaminated

A fuel leak at a petrol station in Canberra’s west has leached into surrounding soil and contaminated groundwater, leaving nearby homeowners and businesses worried their properties will have to be demolished.

A letter sent out to nearby residents said assessments had found there was “evidence that soil, groundwater and soil vapour [had been] contaminated”.

The Caltex service station in Kippax first discovered the leak in mid-February, at which point it decommissioned the tank.

Assessments are underway to determine the extent of the damage, with engineering firm WSP Australia brought in to conduct environmental investigations at the site.

“The leak has migrated to the groundwater located approximately eight metres below ground surface and does not represent any immediate health risk,” the letter from July said.

“Investigations to date indicate that the ambient air (the atmosphere) is not contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons and is not flammable.”

Investigations have confirmed the service station does not pose a health risk and continues to operate, while tap water remains unaffected by the fuel leak and completely safe to drink.

The letter to nearby residents also said there had been extensive work done to pump out and recover the fuel from beneath the service station.

“Fuel recovery is ongoing, and a significant proportion of lost product has been recovered,” the letter said.

Investigations to determine the full extent and nature of the leak, in consultation with the ACT Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and an independent environmental auditor are ongoing.

“We have now completed onsite investigations and are expanding works to include off-site areas surrounding the site,” it said.

“Access to your property may be required so that we can determine the extent of the leak and identify if any further remediation activities are required.

“Once the nature and extent of the contamination and any associated risks are determined, a report detailing the outcomes of investigative works will be provided to the EPA.”

‘We don’t know how bad it is’

Resident Dee Brown, who did not want to reveal her face so as to protect her identity, has lived in the unit block across the road from the Caltex petrol station for 12 months.

She is one of more than 10 residents living in the complex.

Ms Brown said the letter was hand-delivered by one of the workers in July, but she had since heard nothing.

“I’m worried about the extent of the leak, we don’t know how bad it is,” Ms Brown said.

“We could be in serious danger and we just don’t know.

“We were told it wasn’t that bad but they’re clearly still here drilling.”

Other residents, who asked for anonymity, said they were concerned the buildings would need to be demolished.

“We’ve been told if it’s toxic and has badly contaminated the ground there will be no choice but to condemn the buildings,” one resident said.

“They tested fumes levels in our building twice and said there wasn’t anything to worry about.”

Nearby business owners said workers were also testing underground.

“They’ve been testing out the back for a while now and we haven’t been told the results,” one worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

“They said they were testing for environmental damage.

“But we’re worried they’ll have to knock this entire complex down if it’s contaminated.”

Large sections of the service station remain blocked off and dozens of oil drums have been lined up alongside the store.

Likelihood of off-site impacts ‘low’: EPA

In a statement, the EPA said Caltex had so far complied with its obligations in response to the fuel leak.

They said the likelihood of any off-site impacts, including contamination, was low.

“It would be inappropriate to provide any further comment at this time as it may impact the ongoing investigation by the EPA,” it said.

A spokesman for Caltex told the ABC buildings would not need to be demolished.

“Results to date have shown that there are no unacceptable health risks at the site or to occupants of the neighbouring commercial and residential properties,” he said.

“Caltex is extremely disappointed that this has happened. We are undertaking the remediation work as thoroughly and expediently as possible and will continue to update the EPA as work progresses.”

Extracted from ABC