Monday, July 11, 2011

Ancient Benzene Spill Threatens Vapor Intrusion

By Duane Craig

Wood River Refinery in Roxana, Illinois
More than 25 years ago 8,400 gallons of benzene leaked from a pipe associated with the then Shell Oil Products Wood River Refinery in Roxana, Illinois. Today that refinery is under the control of ConocoPhillips and it appears the old benzene spill has made its way beneath homes in a nearby subdivision and could potentially produce vapors that can enter the homes through cracks and imperfections in the foundations.

Vapor Intrusion the cause?

According to a report in The Telegraph, residents there have been warned not to sleep in their basements after samplings from below the slabs of some homes showed “elevated levels of hydrocarbons and lower explosive limits.” A couple of families decided to move from their homes and are being put up in local hotels courtesy of Shell Oil. Shell is also paying for all the monitoring costs that have been going on since the spill. Elevated levels of benzene were first discovered by the monitoring activities in 2005. Shell suggested the elevated levels could have been the result of the chemical making its way into the water table.

Nearby Hartford had a more serious yet similar problem years ago when a plume of gasoline rose and fell with the groundwater. Fumes collected in basements when the water table rose and some homes would spontaneously combust.

In a related story, KMOV TV 4 in St. Louis reported the widower of a schoolteacher from Roxana, who died of leukemia in 2008, has sued Shell Oil and BP Products North America for causing the woman’s cancer and death. The woman worked at a school nearby the refinery.

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