Whitesburg KY
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy

Water advisory lifted on 10th day

State officials on Wednesday afternoon lifted a drinking water advisory issued 10 days ago to about 4,000 water customers in Letcher County.

The state Division of Water sent out the advisory February 16 after diesel fuel was found seeping into the North Fork of the Kentucky River at Mayking. The advisory asked that residents only use the water for flushing toilets.

The Department for Environmental Protection said laboratory results reported Wednesday to the Division of Water (DOW) indicated there were no measureable levels of diesel fuel in the water produced by the plant. The produced water has been cleared for drinking and all other uses.

As water use resumes, consumers are advised to flush pipes for 10 minutes if they detect an unusual odor to the water. If the odor persists, they should contact their water company for assistance. As a precaution, food and drinks prepared with water produced prior to the consumer advisory being issued should be discarded.

Guy Delius, director of the Division of Public Health Protection and Safety at the Department for Public Health, said he supported the decision to lift the advisory.

“We worked with the Division of Water and the Environmental Services Branch to review the sample results and remove this advisory as quickly as possible,” said Delius. “Our first priority has always been the health of our citizens.”

Cleanup activities at the site of the diesel fuel seepage are continuing and an investigation is underway. Test sampling will continue daily at the treatment plant and at numerous points in the river until remediation of the spill site is complete.

A consumer advisory is issued when there is a possibility that consumption of water produced by a drinking water treatment plant may be harmful to human health.

The diesel fuel leak is believed to have occurred on property owned by Childers Oil of Whitesburg after an old underground storage tank was hauled to the site, located on land formerly owned by CSX Railroad, and rolled onto its top sometime after being unloaded on February 13. Fuel that had been left in the bottom of the old convenience store tank apparently escaped through a lid or a vent and into a ditch leading to the river.

As a result of the accident, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation accusing Childers Oil of endangering the public welfare, degradation of surface water, failure to obtain a pollutant discharge permit, unauthorized release of a petroleum product into waters of the commonwealth, disposal of waste at an non-permitted facility, failure to notify of a petroleum release into the environment, and failure to prepare and implement a groundwater protection plan. State officials said in a news release the company could be fined up to $25,000 for each violation on each day it occurred. The notice was the second issued to Childers Oil since November, when petroleum products were found to be leaking into the river from a company-owned site at Ermine.

The non-consumption advisory was issued the day after state and local officials received complaints of a petroleum odor in the drinking water plant distribution system as well as a sheen on the river. Allison Fleck, communications director with the Division of Water, said high amounts of diesel fuel were later detected in the river at the Mayking storage site.

"One percent of the water sample taken at the site of entry of the leak was oil," said Fleck.

Fleck said tap water samples taken on February 16 and February 17 showed 100 to 200 parts per billion of diesel fuel was detected in the distribution system. She said 50 parts per billion is the maximum amount allowed in the water system.

Once the leak’s source was determined it was brought under control quickly. Cleanup of the spill began immediately under the direction of an environmental consulting firm hired by Childers Oil.

Results of tests on river water samples taken by the company, Micah Group Environmental Contractors, indicate that at 9:30 p.m. on February 16 there were no diesel fuel constituents in the river. The results show the amount of fuel constituents in the water were lower than the laboratory method detection limits of 0.005 parts per million. Test results show the samples tested were taken from the river near the storage site at Mayking, in front of the Letcher County Vocational School, and near the water plant intake below the Whitesburg hospital. The samples were analyzed for polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a suite of 16 compounds including some of the most toxic constituents of diesel fuel (seven of the compounds are considered carcinogenic). The tests were conducted by Microbac Laboratories Inc., a statecertified company located near Knoxville, Tenn.

David E. Joslyn, a professional geologist with Micah Group’s Lexington office, said the test results "are a pretty good measure there was not much (diesel fuel) in the water, if there was any at all" when the samples were taken. Micah Group’s clients include the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Navy, the University of Kentucky, and the state Department of Transportation.

Fleck said test results of samples taken by the state have shown acceptable amounts of diesel fuel in the river since February 21.

The leaking tank was being stored at a site adjacent to a Childers Oil operation where underground and above-ground fuel storage tanks are stored and secured until they can be properly disposed of or reused. The company is based in Letcher County, where it employs 270 people, and operates convenience stores here and in 16 other eastern Kentucky counties. Childers also sells fuel products in bulk to independent service stations, as well as providing fuel and tanks used in mining and other industries.

According to Joslyn, most of the tanks being stored at the site were "cleaned out for the most part," but that some had one or two inches of old fuel, sludge, and water left in the bottom.

Meanwhile, a former Whitesburg attorney filed a lawsuit against Childers Oil Company this week accusing the company of acting "with malice or with flagrant disregard for the rights of the public" in connection with the diesel fuel spill at Mayking.

In a complaint filed Tuesday, Peyton Reynolds of Ermine claims that Childers Oil and its subsidiary, Hindman Petroleum Service Inc., "caused him to suffer physical discomfort and illness" as a result of his drinking contaminated water.

The suit, filed on behalf of Reynolds by Pikeville attorney Jonah Stevens, says Childers Oil "failed to adequately and timely warn the plaintiff and the public of the dangers and health risks associated with the consumption of the polluted or contaminated water."The suit also asks for a trial by jury "so the people of Letcher County may participate in the adjudication of the acts" of Childers Oil and its officials.

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