Get Wright On It: Oily lot exposes abandoned underground storage tank

Get Wright On It: Oily lot exposes abandoned underground storage tank

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - It's something most of us would cringe at if we knew it was there: a possible environmental hazard in our neighborhood.
A Shreveport man says that's what he's been dealing with for the past 4 years. If you've ever driven near the intersection of Creswell Ave. and Olive St. in Shreveport, you might not have even noticed it.
Between the unleveled concrete and cracks in an open lot is a shiny sheen of black gunk.

"You've got a chemical cocktail down in here and God knows what they're going to find."

Daniel Cirulli has been living on and off in this area of the Highland neighborhood for over 40 years.

"I kept reminiscing from my childhood days going to school. There was a gas station here. This station was here for years and they tore it down."

Daniel says the old gas station was torn down sometime in the late 80s but it was only a few years ago when he noticed what seemed to be oil coming up from a pipe in the ground.  

"So I alerted the city, my councilman, and the city. Nothing happened."

He says for years he saw people pull up to the lot, change their oil and dump the waste down one or more of the multiple fill pipes on the property.

Those pipes fill the underground storage tanks, which were left behind by the owners of the gas station.

The tanks may still be filled with anything from oil and gasoline to kerosene.  The possibilities are somewhat endless.

"Man you've got a cocktail down there that's going to blow up at any minute. All you've got to do is get a flame going on. If there is any residual tar or whatever, it's going to catch on fire," said Cirulli.  

Douglas Jones, the president of Pump Masters Incorporated, has spent a lifetime in underground storage tank removal.

"We've seen some flash fires," he says.  

As he walked around the open lot topped with cracked and oily concrete, he described what he believes is buried below.

"You see the little square right here? That would probably make me think this is a 500-gallon tank. You could have a tank laying this direction, this direction, a tank laying this direction and these are relatively small. Like you've got ten feet in here. These could be a 1,0000-gallon tank."

According to the most recent data available from the EPA, there are about 561,000 active Underground Storage Tanks (USTs) nationwide that are regulated by the agency since federal regulations went into effect in 1984 Since then, the EPA says more than 1.8 million USTs have been properly closed. Just over 71,000 have been identified as ones that still require cleanup.

Those like the ones near Creswell and Olive were installed prior to new regulations in 1988 and are a concern because tanks corrode quickly when buried unprotected in the soil. It's not clear if this one is included in the EPA's count of USTs.

According to the same data, 657 UST sites remained in need of cleaning up in Louisiana as of September 2016. 283 remained in Arkansas and 1,554 in Texas. A total of 221,384 USTs had been closed in the region, which also includes New Mexico and Oklahoma, leaving 83,483 active tanks.

Jones added, "The contamination of what's left in the ground is the biggest concern. Things decay naturally, you know what I'm saying? Corrosion. Iron sets in and starts rusting. You can have situations where they just decay and collapse and you'll have a sink hole in a sense if they're left like this."

So who's responsible for the mess?  Because of unpaid taxes, the property was adjudicated to the city.  KSLA News 12 's Shayne Wright contacted The City of Shreveport’s environmental services office.  He was ultimately directed to the local office of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).  An official from DEQ visited the site for an assessment shortly after.

"The particular instance you were referring to, there was a cluster of them, maybe 4 or 5 tanks there and some of them actually had some product in them," said DEQ press secretary Greg Langley. 

Langley added that it's common for his office to come across underground storage tanks and claims the threat to drinking water at this site is minimal because most of Shreveport's drinking water comes from Cross Lake.

He says groundwater contamination is also minimal because the clay soil in this part of the state probably seals most of it off.

As for the explosion hazard with any open flames nearby, Langley says, "I can't say. I don't know what's down there but if it was gasoline, you wouldn’t want to drop an open flame into it obviously. There might not be enough oxygen down there to feed much of a fire."

Greg Jones says the cost to remove storage tanks varies widely and could go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  However, Langley claims, the project near Creswell Ave. and Olive St. may be covered under the state's abandoned tank fund.  In that case, the city would be off the hook for the cost of the project.

"Once they pump them out, the contaminated soil will be disposed of properly and the tanks will be removed and then some remediation will be done to bring the property back to its previous use," Langley said.

Meanwhile, Cirulli says he's happy that he might be a little closer now to being able to enjoy his daily walk without worrying about the oily lot and what lies beneath it. But he won’t be completely satisfied until the cleanup is complete.

"I want to see the city come in here, whoever is responsible, dig this up and get this crap outta here and make it safe." 

Following the beginning of Shayne's conversations with DEQ, officials since come out and put a cap on the main fill pipe which was spewing oil.  The cap is also now locked.  DEQ hasn't set a timeline for removing all the tanks but says the legal process has begun.

If you have a story you'd like Shayne to get on, call our investigative tip line at (318) 422-1282.  Be sure to leave your problem, name, and number where you can be reached.

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