Gas-spill cleanup expected to take weeks
CHAMPAIGN – Cleanup of a major gasoline spill in west Champaign from a Wednesday night accident between a van and a tanker truck could take weeks to complete and cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The driver of the tanker truck from which thousands of gallons of gasoline leaked was hospitalized in critical condition. The driver of the van and one of her two passengers were treated and released.
Meantime, dozens of workers from government and private agencies joined ranks Thursday to contain the spill, which also killed an undetermined number of fish in the Copper Slough in west Champaign.
Champaign police spokeswoman Rene Dunn said the spill happened about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday when Erin Ruprecht, 17, of Mahomet apparently turned in front of David Hudson, 47, of Decatur, the driver of a Casey's tanker truck. The truck went over on its side on Church Street just west of Country Fair Drive, spilling gasoline in the ditches on both sides of the interstate.
Ruprecht was ticketed for improper turning, Dunn said.
Just below the interstate to the south is Kaufman Lake and the Copper Slough. The spill appeared to have gone just into the Copper Slough, where workers from the city's fire and public works departments, along with professional hazardous-waste handlers, spent much of Thursday building dams to contain the gasoline so it could be removed and to keep it from migrating south.
Champaign Fire Deputy Chief Eric Mitchell said based on what was left in the tanker, firefighters estimated about 5,300 gallons of gasoline spilled. The strong smell of gasoline hung in the air in that area for most of Thursday, a damp, overcast day.
Nancy Mackiewicz, office manager for Superior Environmental Corp. in Springfield said Casey's contracts with her company to clean up such spills.
"I've been doing work with Casey's for over 10 years," she said of Superior, which has offices all over the Midwest. Also assisting in the initial cleanup was Bodine Environmental Services of Decatur.
Casey's, she said, is based in Ankeny, Iowa.
Mackiewicz said she was told that Hudson had just left a terminal in Champaign with a full tanker when the accident happened. It was raining at the time, which may have kept the rig from bursting into flames because it slid, she said.
Mackiewicz said it's too early to put a price tag on the cleanup.
"It's going to be a huge cost," she said, adding that it's safe to say it will run in the "tens of thousands" and could take a couple of weeks or more.
"The primary focus is to get all the product," Mackiewicz said.
Booms made of absorbent synthetic material that repels water and absorbs gasoline were placed at various locations along the Copper Slough. In the area just under where the accident occurred, workers also constructed a "siphon dam" designed to allow water to flow through a pipe but gasoline to pool on top of the water behind a barrier.
Mackiewicz said they then use specialized vacuum trucks to remove the gasoline from the water.
"Once we get all the product out, then the problem is contaminated soil," Mackiewicz explained. "We're going to have heavy equipment excavating, putting it (contaminated soil) into trucks or stockpiles. Ultimately, it will be landfilled. We take samples as we go along. We have a field instrument that acts as a nose, giving as an indication of when we've achieved clean."
The Copper Slough is a creek that drains most of the west side of Champaign. It flows to the southwest, starting just south of Interstate 74 and west of I-57, and eventually empties into the Kaskaskia River southwest of Windsor and Rising roads.
Champaign Park District Director Bobbie Herakovich said Thursday it did not appear that the spill affected Kaufman Clear Lake.
"It looks like the valve is closed off to the lake. It seems like it's contained in the Copper Slough, which flows to the south," she said.
The Copper Slough runs through Pick Dodds Park and Heritage Park, which has a lake, but both of those are north of the accident site. It also runs through Kaufman Park, Bian Park at Kirby and Duncan, and Robert C. Porter Park at Rising and Windsor roads, Herakovich said.
A representative of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency was taking samples of the water from the creek just south of I-72, which were to be sent to the lab in Springfield for analysis.
EPA spokeswoman Jill Watson said her agency's concerned about the short-term and long-term effects to the environment.
"The good thing is there is no public heath concern. Everything is being controlled. We're still in emergency response mode," she said Thursday afternoon. "We want to make sure it is absorbed and removed. We will be taking samples until they come back clean, to an acceptable level."
The Department of Natural Resources will deal with counting dead fish, according to spokesman Chris McCloud.
"We did go out (Thursday) afternoon and took a look. It's too early to tell exactly what is responsible and how many fish,"he said. "We will go back up there Friday and get an idea of the extent. We need a little more time to survey the situation."
McCloud said his agency works with the EPA and the Department of Public Health.
The natural resources officials count the dead fish and report that number to the EPA, which determines what killed them, then sends that report to the public health officials, who decide when the waterway is safe, he explained.