Old gasoline service stations that don’t have new double-walled tanks and concrete retaining walls could be subject to leakage into the surrounding soil. That was the situation with a station located up the hill from my home. How it was handled is a story that should never be repeated.

There was some new development on the hill behind the gas station that required extending the sewer line from the development behind my house to the top of the hill behind the station. Coincidently, that same year the gas company dug up the natural gas line running down our street, which also ran past the station, to replace it with new pipe.

The following winter we had some heavy snow fall and a lot of rain the following spring. One spring night, after a particularly heavy rain, the neighbors behind our property had to abandon their homes when they were overwhelmed by the smell of gasoline vapors.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation was called in to asses the problem. The old gas station was, of course, the immediate suspect, and tests on the property confirmed it as the most likely source of the contamination. Contractors were called in and began ripping up the land around the homes behind us to decontaminate the soil. Neighborhood meetings were held with the DEC engineers to give progress reports. For some reason, we had no gasoline odors in our house, but we were included as part of the probable contamination area.

The DEC engineers presented us with maps that showed a massive wave of gasoline spilling underground through the entire neighborhood. The thought of all this contamination seeping into every home caused much anxiety and panic. The DEC, in addition to excavating large tracts of soil, began drilling monitoring wells throughout the neighborhood. At this time we refused to permit the DEC any access to our property since we had no evidence of any contamination. I also didn’t relish having our property torn apart at random looking for the gasoline “wave” as was happening to our neighbor’s property.

As the summer wore on, we became the subject of attack by the DEC for hindering the solution by non-cooperation with the government. The DEC contamination map showed our property involved in the probable contamination area. We were now being shunned by our neighbors, who were living amidst mounds of mud and clay, when the DEC identified us as a problem hindering the clean-up process. The contractors continued their attempts at abating the situation by digging more wells and trenches. One of the neighbors had yet to return to their home. More next week.