Well testing performed after Elkton-area oil spill
— Families in three adjacent homes on Blue Ball Road near Elkton remained in a wait-and-see mode Wednesday — eight days after a fuel truck crashed and spilled an undetermined amount of used oil that leaked onto their properties.
“Our information is that the truck has a 2,800-gallon capacity, that it was not completely full, that not all of it spilled, but we are expecting additional information from the (fuel truck owner) company on a breakdown of numbers,” Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, reported.
Regardless of how many gallons of oil spilled — nearby residents maintain that it was about 2,000 gallons based on what they heard and witnessed on the night of the crash — the affected families have been using cases of bottled water for drinking, washing clothes and bathing because the status of their wells from a contamination standpoint remains in question.
Angela Scramlin, well and zoonotic disease program supervisor with the Cecil County Health Department, reported that her agency collected water samples on the morning of June 8 and sent them to a state lab in Baltimore for testing.
As of Wednesday, however, those results had not been received by the CCHD, according to Gregg Bortz, CCHD public affairs officer. It typically takes about four weeks for the state lab to send such results, he noted.
Samples for well testing also were collected on Monday by a company hired by Lorco of Maryland, the Elkton-based company that owns the fuel truck that crashed. Lorco, which collects used oil from auto repair shops and other places, is paying for the sample collection and for the testing of those samples, which will be performed by a private lab at a relatively accelerated speed.
“The company will pay for a quick turnaround of the samples,” Scramlin said, before qualifying, however, “Generally, a week or two weeks is a quick turnaround with a private lab.”
Apperson reported that the MDE’s Oil Control Program, as one of its functions, instructed Lorco to arrange and pay for the well-testing work, referring to Lorco as “the responsible party.”
Referring to the CCHD’s monitoring of the wells, Apperson commented, “We are supporting that endeavor.”
The affected families in the 2400 block of Blue Ball Road will continue to use bottled water, at least until the test results come back. Should the results show contamination, the families believe that they will have to continue using bottled water for their everyday needs. They also have expressed concerns that they might have to have new wells dug.
“I don’t even know where we could dig another well,” said Marsha Adkins, who explained that her family’s existing 160-foot-deep well is in their front yard — the portion of property most impacted by the spilled oil.
She and her husband, Chuck Adkins, and their two boys, ages 11 and 12, have lived in the house since 1995. Her husband’s grandfather built the home in 1965.
“We are definitely in a holding pattern,” Chuck Adkins said.
He also wonders how long will their wells be monitored, even if the test results are favorable, commenting, “I want to know about the long-term effects. What about a year from now?”
In addition, he is concerned what effect the oil spill will have on the property value of his home and the others, explaining that the residents would have to report to prospective buyers that their properties had been contaminated for full disclosure.
“It would be a red flag on our real es- tate,” he remarked.
Lorco supplied the Adkins family with six cases of bottled water late last week, as it did for the other families, but only after Marsha Adkins persistently requested that the company do so, she said.
Lorco representatives could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the cleanup project by Cleanup Venture, a private full service environmental contractor hired by Lorco, is continuing, according to Apperson.
“I feel like they’re not moving fast enough,” said Pat Yonko, one of the affected residents.
Yonko, 78, whose husband died four years ago, has lived in her Blue Ball Road home since 1960.
The Adkins couple said they were told that the cleanup would be completed within three days after the crash. But the cleanup, which involves the closing of Blue Ball Road from Warburton Road to Farrah Lane from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every weekday, continued Wednesday and it still hadn’t been finished, they added.
“We were told they were going to be working around the clock to clean it up,” Chuck Adkins said, adding that the crews, however, left the site at 2 a.m. on June 8, some nine hours after the crash occurred, and returned later that morning.
There have been work delays, including workers waiting for the delivery of commercial garbage bins to hold numerous bags of contaminated dirt that had been excavated from the spill site.
An excavation site is evident on one side of the Adkins’ front yard. It stretches about 60 feet from the northbound edge of Blue Ball Road into the yards, and it is approximately 15 feet wide and about a 18 inches deep in some spots.
Chuck Adkins questioned why the operators of the earth-moving equipment haven’t been digging deeper and faster.
“Instead of digging it deeper, they’re skimming it, scrapping it away a little bit at a time. Then they wait and see if it (oil) comes up,” he said, adding that activity at the excavation site is always followed by long stretches of inactivity.
Representatives for Clear Venture could not be reached for comment.
Apperson explained that such an excavation is a tedious process. Crews methodically remove a layer of contaminated soil and then perform tests to determine if they need to dig deeper.
“I don’t think anybody wants to have their property or ground dug up needlessly. There is a testing process,” Apperson said, before qualifying, “A sub- stantial amount of contaminated soil has been excavated.”
When an oil spill occurs, such as the one of Blue Ball Road, members of the MDE’s “emergency response team” go to the scene and work closely with the local hazmat team to assess the situation and to handle the immediate cleanup operation, according to Apperson.
That involves vacuuming the pooled or standing released oil. In addition to seeping into the ground near the crash site, oil ran into a roadside ditch stretching in front of the three affected properties and going through draining pipes beneath their driveways.
Yonko noted, “My well is about four feet away from the ditch.”
“All of the pooled liquid has been recovered,” Apperson reported.
A licensed contractor removes and disposes of the recovered oil, he said.
Also during the early stages, absorbent pads are placed on visibly affected ground to soak up the oil, according to Apperson.
The initial emergency cleanup is then followed by well-testing and the excavation of contaminated soil, he reported.
Apperson reported that the MDE’s investigation into the matter is ongoing.
Marsha Adkins said she has a number of concerns, which came to her gradually in the wake of the crash.
“I thought about our well, No. 1,” she said, noting that the smell of oil was pungent at first but has dissipated to a faint odor.
According to Adkins, one of their boys developed a rash and complained of headaches after the crash.
“Then you start thinking like a mom. What effect will it have on our health, breathing in the odor of oil? What about the clothes in our closets with that oil smell? What about my laundry? Should I even wash it here?” she said, explaining that she wears scrubs at her job at Union Hospital in Elkton.
The accident occurred about 5 p.m. on June 7 when Elkton-area resident Benjamin Price, 35, who is a Lorco employee, lost control of his fuel truck as he was traveling in the northbound lane of Blue Ball Road of Elkton.
“The fuel truck went off the right side of the road into ditch. When the driver tried to steer the truck back onto the roadway, the vehicle overturned and came to rest on the driver’s side of the vehicle,” Capt. Stephen Brownhill of the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office explained.
An ambulance took Price to Union Hospital in Elkton, according to emergency workers on the scene.
Chuck Adkins stands behind his wife, Marsha, who is seated on a well cap in the front yard of their Elkton-area home — six days after the fuel truck crash. Behind them is the excavation site. In front of them is some of the bottled water their family will be using until health officials can determine if their well has been contaminated by oil.