Unreported Asphalt Spills Concerns Pollution Control Officials

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“We should have gotten an immediate call and the company should have gotten a contractor to start immediate cleanup,” said Steve Lee at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) about the incident that took place July 23.

On that day, Bituminous Roadways spilled an estimated 500 to 600 gallons of asphalt emulsion onto a parking lot surface in South Minneapolis, with 200-300 gallons flowing down the storm sewer leading to the Mississippi River. The company failed to report the incident.

Instead, an anonymous complaint told the Minneapolis Environmental Services that the spill had occurred in the parking lot of the Veterans’ Hospital. Since the company had not reported the spill, the cleanup of the site did not begin until Monday.

The law says that a spill should be reported immediately to the state’s Emergency Management Group, which coordinates with the State Response Team that is part of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Bituminous Roadways president Kent Peterson said he recognizes the negligence of his employees failing to monitor the tanker overheating and boiling over.

According to Marilyn Danks, an aquatic biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, rain flushed the asphalt into the storm sewers. Tom Frame of the City of Minneapolis Environmental Services stated that “while they were trying to control [the spill], the storms came in.”

The cleanup contractor was hired by the same company that failed to report the spill. Peterson explained that as a result of this incident the company trucks now display stickers on their dashboards, reminding employees to report spills immediately. In addition, he said, the company is working closely to educate supervisors regarding the proper reporting procedures.

Peterson described the asphalt emulsion as 60 percent water and 40 percent asphalt; that is, non-hazardous.

The river bottom and the shoreline along the Mississippi River have been cleaned up by the West Central Environmental Consultants, while Bituminous Roadways assisted with the cleanup. The asphalt had formed what Peterson described as “globs.” Danks explained that asphalt was found coated on the rocks along the riverbank and not in the river.

However, according to Peterson, the storm sewer is still contaminated with asphalt they are still contemplating a strategy for cleanup inside the storm sewer.

“Asphalt was found on the rocks along the riverbank,” Peterson said. “As far as we can tell, we got everything along the bank.”

“Asphalt probably did coat the storm drain, but we don’t know the extent,” Danks said. “When asphalt cools, it get sticky. It’s like taffy.”

One question that remains unanswered is: What effect will future rainfalls have on the asphalt coated on the inside of the storm sewer? In addition, will there be a penalty for Bituminous Roadways for failing to report the spill? Finally, what effect did the delayed reporting have on the quality of cleanup?

Lee, at MPCA, described the agency’s role as overseeing, approving the cleanup and conducting enforcement action with the company, as well as providing training and education. He stated that there are approximately 2,000 reported spills a year while there are approximately 100-200 times a year in which a spiller doesn’t report the spill or conduct the required cleanup. In such a case, the agency uses the approach of a combination of enforcement using taxpayer’s funds and collecting the penalty from the spiller.

It is pending what penalty Bituminous Roadways will face, if any.

The concern is that the asphalt emulsion went down the storm sewer and entered the Mississippi River. Lee described this spill and the lack of company responsibility to report the spill as significant in terms of a pollution problem.

“Asphalt on the riverbank is pollution: Luckily, it doesn’t appear that it killed wildlife or fish.” ||

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