Diesel spill closes schools and leaves Greenbrier county residents without water
A diesel spill late on the evening of January 23rd, 2015 released almost 4000 gallons of diesel fuel into Anthony Creek, a tributary that feeds the Greenbrier River. That water in turn feeds into the water plant that supplies fresh water to Lewisburg and surrounding areas.
After the spill Friday night, the water plant shut its intake valves, and while Greenbrier County residents were urged to conserve water, the plant ran out of water by 3pm Sunday, according to Paula Brown, of Greenbrier County Emergency Management.
Brown said they’re not sure when water service will be returned but they’ve told residents to plan on being without water for at least three days. She also said the current weather system is not helping the situation, saying they’ve got to wait until the contaminant passes from Lewisburg. Then it will take a few more days to pressurize the water lines there.
The water intake was shut off before any diesel got into the water treatment plant or the water system, according to Al Whitaker, Director of homeland security and emergency management for Greenbrier County. He said the intake was shut off at 2am Saturday, about 10 hours before the diesel reached the water intake around noon.
Water is being distributed from tanker trucks at the State Fairgrounds in Fairlea and Island Park in Ronceverte, according to Brown. People are being asked to bring their own containers.
The Lewisburg Water Department serves about 12,000 people from Lewisburg north to Renick and south to Ronceverte. Area restaurants and businesses were ordered shut down by the health department, although they may reopen as they develop alternate water plans.
The Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Ronceverte has brought in its own water tankers to serve the hospital and dialysis patients and remains open, Brown said.
The tanker was hauling 7,000 gallons of diesel north on 92 when it overturned around 11:30 p.m. about 20 miles from the Lewisbug water treatment plant, according to Whitaker. He estimated that it spilled between 3,500 and 3,900 gallons of fuel. He said that cleanup crews began work immediately but were slowed by bad roads and ice.
Officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency are on the scene conducting water tests. Officials from the state Bureau for Public Health, local health departments, the National Guard, other state agencies and two environmental consulting groups are also on the scene.
The EPA tests require a 24-hour turnaround, according to a message posted on Lewisburg’s website. Brown said that the National Guard, which can get test results back within 40 minutes, will also be doing testing. Brown said that diesel has been detected in the river from Anthony to Lewisburg, a distance of about 11 miles, but has not been detected farther south in Alderson.
The nearby Alderson water treatment plant is downstream of the spill, on the Greenbrier, but officials said it has not yet been contaminated. Protective booms have been set up in the river outside the Alderson plant.
State officials from several agencies remain in contact with local emergency management officials and are assisting as needed, said West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Public Information Officer Toby Wagoner.
Al Whitaker, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was contacted for an update on the situation, but had not responded by press time. An incident meeting on the spill was scheduled for 11am on Monday, January 26th.
Thanks to the Charleston Gazette for the information in this report.