Heavy rain to blame for fuel oil spill near hospital
By Lee Barnes
An estimated 500 to 800 gallons of fuel oil spilled into a creek Wednesday near Rowan Regional Medical Center.
Salisbury firefighters contained the spill Wednesday afternoon. Thursday, the only evidence of the spill at the scene was a small containment dam and the pungent smell of fuel oil.
Blame the weather. A best-guess scenario is that this week’s heavy rains raised the water table, and an unused below-ground fuel tank failed, allowing the fuel to escape. The oil flowed into a stream running through Hurley Park toward Grants Creek in the neighborhood near the hospital.
State officials say the owner of the property has taken responsibility for the cleanup.
Although the tank is no longer in use, there are no regulations requiring that it be capped or removed. City officials say the neighborhood may have many such tanks, abandoned as home owners converted over to other forms of heating.
City and state officials Thursday said they don’t know how long the tank has been unused.
Workers initially struggled to contain the spill on Wednesday because of the heavy rain ó the spill spread too fast. Firefighters, who make up the city’s Hazardous Materials Response Team, put out portable collection booms to slow the flow and absorb some of the fuel.
Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell said state and federal authorities were notified immediately. As the weather improves, more contaminated soil may have to be removed.
Salisbury Fire Department Division Chief David Morris said the tank has been completely purged. The next step, he said, will be for officials with the the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to determine whether the tank can be left in place and filled with sand, or if it will have to be dug up.
A spokesman for the department said the state will give the property owner “time to do what he needs to do.”