Information Meeting Reveals Gas Spill Frustration

An otherwise orderly recitation of test and remediation results following the massive Nov. 5 gas spill on Route 44 was punctuated Tuesday night by an angry tirade by a man whose house lay directly in the path of the cascading gas.

Brian Quinones, who rented 97 Greenwoods Road West and who has since been housed in another rental home, became incensed when Zoning Enforcement Officer Michael Halloran urged residents living in the spill’s pathway to allow testing and remediation on their properties. “We all want this cleaned up,” Halloran said. “Everyone should be working together. Let these people on your property. … It’s ridiculous, we keep going ‘round and around about it.”

Quinones boiled over, asserting that his family was sent back into its house the day of the spill, before it was safe, and was subjected to prolonged exposure to benzene, a chemical linked to cancer. He charged that Halloran, who lives in another section of town, did not “have a god-damned clue what any of these people are going through” and suggested that Halloran should trying living in a motel room “with no place to go.” 

Until the contretemps, the meeting had been a recitation of progress made in the cleanup. Jeff King and Zach Smith, representatives of Verdantas, the firm charged with monitoring the spill and overseeing cleanup, reported general improvement in contamination levels in ground water and soils. Testing will continue until clean results are registered in four quarterly samplings. The men said there are pockets of contamination, however, particularly near Pettibone Street, that need extensive remediation.

No pollution has been detected in Wood Creek or the Blackberry River, although some product found its way to the water pollution control facility, probably by infiltrating lateral sewer lines.

Neighbors along Route 44 argued that they still see gasoline forming in small pools even following excavation of saturated soils near their homes. One woman insinuated that the positive test results are because Verdantas collects samples only after heavy rains, when the gasoline would be diluted, a statement refuted by Verdantas.

Quinones demanded to know about residual effects when trees pull moisture from the soil. “The trees will soak up everything around them,” he said. “It will go into their fruit, into the animals and will transfer to humans. It’s going to poison everything.”

King said Verdantas delineates impacts through borings. “We do borings to determine the lateral extent and depth,” he said. “The initial excavation went down 10 feet. Since then, we have drilled to 40 feet to see if any gas has migrated into the ground water.” No ground water contamination was found. 

More excavation will be needed in the area this spring and summer and residents may have to relocate temporarily if the soil is disturbed for prolonged periods. Air quality will be monitored during the process. The town is working with those who may be displaced.

Industrial Hygienist Bob Brown tested home air quality in the region of the initial spill, both beneath the structures and inside. Houses to the east and west of the spill had results well within state standards. Ironically, a house 200 yards away tested high for benzene. It was later discovered that the readings were affected by open gas cans in the garage. “Our instruments are so sensitive, even a gas-soaked rag can affect the readings,” Brown said.

First Selectman Matt Riiska laid to rest a rumor that houses are to be torn down. “I’ve never heard that,” he said. “It’s a rumor being spread.”

Another meeting will be held in February.

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