The state has opened a public comment period on cleanup of the former El Paso terminal property in McPherson.

The state has opened a public comment period on cleanup of the former El Paso terminal property in McPherson.

The site is about 96 acres and is located southeast of National Cooperative Refinery Association along south Main Street.

El Paso is currently leasing the land to NCRA with intent to sell property to NCRA, according to a Kansas Department of Health and Environment report. El Paso is a merchant energy control company that is a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan.

History of the site

The El Paso site was the location of a petroleum storage and terminal facility from 1933 to 1982.
Contamination was first found on the site in the late 1970s.

In addition, there was a petroleum spill on March 2, 1973, that released about 100 to 150 gallons of diesel fuel onto the site.

Both the soil and groundwater at the site contain carcinogenic chemicals, said Chris Carey, a spokesman for KDHE. As a result, the groundwater is not recommended for drinking water, and KDHE also is not recommending any residential development on the site.

What's in the water, soil

There are a number of different contaminants KDHE evaluated in its study of the site. One of these was benzene, a common industrial chemical.

A report from KDHE indicated there has been a maximum concentration of benzene at the site of 22 milligrams per liter. The recommended amount for drinking water is .005 milligrams per liter.

Benzene is known to cause cancer, based on evidence from studies in both people and laboratory animals. The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and cancers of other blood cells, according to the American Cancer Society.

The amount of total petroleum hydrocarbons, which in layman's terms is oil, also was at a high level, according to the KDHE report.

The maximum concentration of the total petroleum hydrocarbons in the water was 90 milligrams per liter. In drinking water, KDHE recommends the concentration be .5 milligrams per liter.

In the soil, the maximum concentration of benzene on the site was 160 milligrams per kilogram. The recommended amount is 15.9 milligrams per kilogram for direct contact. The maximum total petroleum hydrocarbons recorded in the he soil was 14,000 milligrams per kilogram. KDHE recommends 220 milligrams per kilogram for direct contact.

Effects on McPherson water

At this point, the groundwater contamination is not threatening any of the wells from which the city of McPherson takes its water, Carey said.

"We know it is contained," he said. "We know where it is. The NCRA refinery is capturing groundwater recovery wells. It is not getting away from us."

However, KDHE in cooperation with El Paso and NCRA has developed recommendations for cleanup of the site that they hope will prevent the further spread of the contaminates.

The state has studied the site and developed four alternatives for dealing with the contamination.

The first alternative is to do nothing. The EPA requires that this always be considered as an option in a cleanup scenarios.

Options two through four all include an environmental use control plan. This would mean the uses for the land would be restricted.

For example, no wells for drinking water could be drilled on the site, and the land could not be used for residential housing.

All three plans also include a provision for hydraulic containment. NCRA already uses pumps on its site that control the flow of groundwater. This is done in attempts to control the spread of contaminates.

This pumping process also is being used to try to control the spread of contaminates on the El Paso site, Carey said. Under an agreement with NCRA and El Paso, this process will continue.

The cleanup is primary looking at dealing with removal of total petroleum hydrocarbons or oil in the groundwater.

Each of the remaining alternatives would address that removal in a slightly different way.

Cleanup alternatives

In alternative No. 2, wells on the site would be manually monitored. When oil is found, it would be pumped from the wells. This process is called product skimming.

This option is estimated to cost $550,000.

In alternative No. 3, the wells on the El Paso property would be automatically monitored. Piping would built from the wells to the wastewater treatment plant at NCRA. The groundwater containing contaminants would be automatically pumped to the NCRA wastewater facility for treatment. This process is called hydraulic recovery. Alternative No. 3 would cost an estimated $2.3 million.

Alternative No. 4 contains all the provisions of alternative No. 3, except a vacuum would be applied to more expediently recover the contaminants. This process is called multi-phase extraction.

Alternative No. 4 would cost an estimated $2.4 million.

NCRA has agreed to pay the cost of the cleanup, Carey said.

Taking action

KDHE will take public comments on the alternatives until March 27. At that time, KDHE officials will evaluate the comments and consider if any changes need to be made to the cleanup plan. Once KDHE has finalized the plan, NCRA will have 60 days to develop a plan of action and timeline for implementing the cleanup.

Carey said the plans for the cleanup are not set in stone. If the cleanup procedures do not sufficiently contain the contaminates, the cleanup plan can be revised.

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