THE INVESTIGATORS: La. officials shut down pumps at gas station after inspectors find water in tanks
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Inspectors with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry shut down a number of pumps at the Sunoco gas station on Scenic Highway in Baton Rouge after one woman who filled up there tipped them off about contaminated gas being sold there.
“I wouldn’t wish this on nobody,” said Psychoia Lanehart.
She said she filled up back in July and her car broke down about 30 minutes later.
”I went to move the car and I cut it on and it wouldn’t start. I tried it again and it would start and then it started killing. No one’s expecting to pull up to a gas station and get contaminated gas,” explained Lanehart.
She said she had to get her brand new car towed to a dealership where a mechanic sucked out the gas, replaced her spark plugs, and got her back on track. An invoice she provided to WAFB showed where the whole ordeal set her back almost $1,000.
“I mean, I have bills to pay. Nobody has over $1,000 just sitting around, especially with the way the economy’s going. Nobody has money like that sitting around to just have to come up out of their pocket,” added Lanehart.
On top of that, Lanehart said she was stuck with no way to get around just days after accepting a new job.
She was asked how long her car was out of commission.
“I didn’t have it for like a week. So, at that point, I was depending on my family members to get me back and forth to work so I wouldn’t lose my job,” answered Lanehart.
The woman contacted the Department of Agriculture and Forestry and a copy of its report WAFB obtained through a public records request confirmed the agency did send out inspectors and the agency did find a problem.
“When inspectors went out, they found in two different grades of gasoline, there was water in the gas,” said Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
Strain said the pumps were immediately shut down at the gas station and red tags were placed on the affected pumps on July 28, 2022. Lanehart got gas there about a week before that inspection and the commissioner said they have no way of knowing exactly how many other drivers may have gotten the bad gas before they took action.
“Just a little bit of water will cause a huge problem. It will damage your vehicle, and so, your vehicle will knock and it won’t run well. High-performance engines won’t perform well,” he added.
When the state suspects a problem, crews will do a quick inspection at the gas station before sending off samples to a lab just to be sure. Once a gas station is flagged, it’s up to the owner to have the tanks cleaned out before they can be tested again and given the green light.
Strain said finding watered-down gas is rare but the agency takes it seriously. They test across the state thoroughly and often to make sure the gas that drivers are spending their money on is clean and safe to use.
”We do about 450 complaints a year at stations. We examine more than 3,500 stations per year and most of the stations have multiple pumps. Some have 10 or 15 pumps and we check every pump. We do that routinely but also based on complaints,” explained Strain.
He noted water typically gets into the gas tank by accident. It usually happens when the seal on top of the underground gas tanks is not tight or if there’s a crack that allows standing water to seep in. The commissioner said the worst part is there’s no real way for drivers to know the gas is bad until after they’ve pumped it.
”No. There really isn’t,” he said.
Every pump tied to bad gas is shut down until the tanks are re-inspected by the state.
Lanehart said she wants everyone to know what happened to her can happen to them.
”Just be careful where you get your gas from,” she said.
WAFB was able to reach the owner of the Sunoco gas station by phone on Monday, August 15, 2022. He said the pumps were supposed to be fixed that day but as of Tuesday afternoon, the red tags were still on several pumps at the gas station.
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