Officials Search For Source Of Petroleum Pollution In Burlington Groundwater

Aug 13, 2014

Officials have been working for two years to figure out the source of a slow petroleum leak that’s repeatedly caused a sheen on the water flowing into Burlington’s waterfront wastewater treatment facility.

But so far, they’ve had very little luck. 

The petroleum leak resulted in a smell or a visible sheen on top of the water at the facility, according to Gary Kessler, who oversees the compliance and enforcement division of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“What I was told was that it’s a very low level, but it’s perceivable,” Kessler said.

Hugo Martinez Cazon, a hazardous site manager for DEC, said the problem started sometime after Tropical Storm Irene hit the state in August of 2011.

Martinez Cazon said the sheen “could be fuel oil or fuel oil and kerosene,” but its source remains elusive.

“It’s a puzzle,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out where things are coming from.”

Chapin Spencer, the head of Burlington’s Department of Public Works, said the wastewater plant “is designed to address small amounts of these contaminants,” and was able to get all of the petroleum out of the water before releasing it into Lake Champlain.

Spencer also said the city had some luck solving the problem in April, when workers capped a clay pipe. Since then, there hasn’t been any petroleum coming through. Engineers have narrowed the source area down to the area immediately around the treatment facility.

“It appears that it’s coming from an adjacent parcel near the waterfront,” he said.

Martinez Cazon said officials are testing soil and groundwater samples from two areas on the Vermont Rail System railyard near the wastewater facility, and those results should be available within a couple months.

“Everybody’s been very cooperative,” he said, “all the parties.”

Except, of course, the elusive petroleum product.