Fact Sheet 1
Petroleum Vapor Problems in Northeast Hartford Basements
Fact Sheet #1
Refining, storage and pipeline transportation of petroleum products have dominated industrial activity in northern Hartford for many decades. The three adjacent refinery properties of the area have gone through several successive owners and name changes over these decades. The current owners of these refineries are Premcor Refining Group (formerly Clark Oil and Refining; Apex Oil Company was another former owner), BP Products of North America (formerly Amoco) and ConocoPhillips (former owner Shell). The long history of refinery operations in the area is accompanied by a long history of petroleum releases from pipelines and on-site facility units.
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What caused the vapor problem in homes in northeast Hartford?
Pipeline and other refinery releases over decades of operation have created a layer of gasoline and other petroleum products on top of the groundwater under much of northeast Hartford. As the groundwater table moves, rising and falling with varying seasonal rainfall, it carries the petroleum layer with it. When petroleum is carried upward with the rising groundwater table into subsoils below structures and the volatile chemicals in the petroleum evaporate, the vapors can make their way into crawl spaces and basements through sumps, drains and cracks in foundations. This occurs most readily during periods of heavy rainfall when the surface soil is saturated and the vapors are trapped between the surface and the rising groundwater table. Groundwater can also move horizontally over time, potentially carrying petroleum beyond historically affected areas.
What are the hazards associated with petroleum vapors in basements
If the levels of gasoline vapors are high enough in an enclosed space, explosions and fires are possible. Several fires attributed to gasoline vapors in the affected area had been reported in 1969. During the 1970s and 80s, odor complaints, health concerns and vapor intrusions into homes in the area were reported. In the spring of 2002, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) again received reports from several northeast Hartford residents of odors, chronic headaches and occasional nausea associated with vapors in their homes.
The May 2002 reports resulted in IDPH measuring the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs; chemicals found in gasoline vapors) in air in the basements of selected homes. The IDPH then prepared a Public Health Assessment to evaluate the sampling results and determine whether adverse health effects could occur from periodic exposure to these levels of VOC vapors in homes. Based on the sampling results, IDPH determined that long-term, but intermittent exposure to these levels of volatile organic compounds found in the Hartford basements poses no apparent increased cancer risk. IDPH's review of the Illinois State Cancer Registry data reported for the area did not find an increased rate of leukemia or other cancers related to exposure to VOCs.
Residents in northeast Hartford have complained of higher incidences of gasoline odors, acute health symptoms, and health concerns than the rest of Hartford. Historical evidence suggests that the conditions that produced the May 2002 vapor intrusions could return and cause short-term exposures and health effects. Because of this, IDPH concluded that the gasoline vapor intrusions in Hartford pose a public health hazard.
What is being done to protect residents, homes and businesses from these vapors?
In the late 1970s and again in the early 1990s, the Illinois EPA and Illinois Attorney General’s Office (AGO) required Clark Oil to install petroleum recovery systems. In the 1970s, Clark installed three recovery wells in north Hartford to pump petroleum from the groundwater. These old recovery wells are noted on the map on page 4 of this fact sheet; however, they are no longer operating. In the early 1990s, Clark installed a vapor recovery system to capture petroleum vapors in soils before they could reach area basements. This vapor control system currently consists of 12 boreholes drilled below ground in the area roughly bounded by Birch Street on the north, Olive Street on the east, Elm Street on the south, and Old St. Louis Road on the west. A network of underground pipes connects the boreholes to blowers, creating a vacuum (low-pressure area) at the boreholes and gasoline vapors are pulled into the system from the surrounding ground. The vapors are piped to a Thermal Treatment Unit that is located within the Premcor Refinery. Premcor reports that over the years these systems have recovered more than 1.8 million gallons of vapor and 1.16 million gallons of liquid gasoline.
Until IDPH received reports of residential vapor problems in the spring of 2002, the state had understood that these systems were functioning adequately to protect the community. The Illinois EPA and the Illinois AGO have since approached oil companies that have operated in the area or used these pipelines, to assist in finding an interim remedy for the short term as well as a long-term solution to this vapor intrusion problem.
Who is responsible for the problem?
Identification of the responsible parties is a complex issue due to many complicating factors including the large network of pipelines in the area, the proximity of several refineries’ properties, successive owners/operators of pipelines and refineries, and historically incomplete records of releases at these facilities. The state is pressing the oil companies that have operated in the area to fund and perform the investigative work necessary to resolve many of these outstanding issues. The Illinois EPA and AGO have identified and filed suit against Premcor, and Apex Oil Company, the company which became Clark Oil, as being two responsible parties for the pipeline releases.
What action is the state taking to get the responsible parties to clean up the problem?
The state is using three approaches to achieve a remedy for the Hartford groundwater and vapor problems.
Because the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) have not voluntarily stepped forward to address the vapor intrusions, the Illinois AGO has filed a lawsuit against Premcor Inc. and Apex Oil Company for the residential area groundwater contamination and vapor intrusions. This action is designed to force the identified responsible parties to address the vapor problems, the groundwater contamination.
Illinois EPA is overseeing Premcor’s characterization and assessment of “source areas” (areas that have or are contributing to the contamination of groundwater), both on the refinery grounds and from releases from their pipelines emanating from the refinery property, for future cleanup. Current investigations are focused on the refinery property. The Illinois EPA requires this assessment process through the authority of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action program. In addition to Premcor using this data to propose corrective actions, the state may also use this information to prepare a request for the U.S.EPA to file a federal RCRA Order against Premcor to require the company to abate the vapor conditions that present an imminent and substantial endangerment to resident’s health.
Federal Financial Assistance
Based on the results of the spring 2002 air sampling and subsequent health assessment, the state has requested the assistance of the U.S.EPA through its emergency response program to provide federal cleanup authorities and monies to initiate a remedy for the residential vapor problems. Specifically, the Illinois EPA has asked the U.S.EPA to assess the feasibility of using federal authorities and/or funding an expanded vapor recovery system.
How can I protect my family and myself if I have a vapor problem?
If your problem is severe, the Hartford Fire Department may evacuate you and your family while your house is being ventilated. During less severe vapor intrusions, IDPH recommends ventilating basements and living spaces to protect your health and that of your family.
Whom should I contact if I think I have a vapor problem?
If you suspect vapors are infiltrating your home and that the vapors may be a safety risk, contact the Hartford Fire Department by dialing 911. They will determine if conditions are immediately dangerous (i.e., explosive).
To report environmental emergencies only, call the Illinois Emergency Management Agency 800-782-7860 or 217-782-7860 (24 hrs/day).
In addition, we ask that you notify a representative of either the Illinois EPA or the IDPH (listed below), if you have or suspect vapors in your home. These agencies are continuing to gather information on the petroleum vapor problems in Northeast Hartford basements. The information you provide will be useful as we proceed with the technical remedy and monitoring of health issues.
Whom should I contact if I want health information about gasoline vapors?
IDPH, Div. of Environmental Health
525 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield IL 62761
Whom should I contact if I want cleanup project updates?
Chris Cahnovsky, Manager
Collinsville Regional Office
1101 Eastport Plaze Drive
Collinsville, IL 62234
Office of Community Relations
1021 N. Grand Ave. East
Springfield, IL 62704-9276