Agencies investigate local unused gas stations for pollution risk

by Courtney Lewis

Two local organizations are working together to determine whether abandoned Minneapolis gas stations pose contamination threats to the soil and ground water in their neighborhoods.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency are investigating six Minneapolis-area sites for petroleum contamination.

The organizations were granted $100,000 in late July to asses the sites, which should be completed by fall.

Abandoned gas stations located at 3324 Hiawatha Ave., 2530 34th St. E., 1601 Glenwood Ave., 1256 Penn Ave. N., 1026 Plymouth Ave. N., 318 Lowry Ave. N. and 2000 Nicollet Ave. are part of the project.

Michael Rafferty, an MPCA information officer, said several steps will be taken to assess each site’s contamination level.

Aerial photographs, background history and pollution dissection will help the agencies with the project.

A “push probe” – a two-and-a-half-inch diameter rod atop a hydraulic lift on a van – will take soil and ground water samples at different depths.

Richard Newquist, supervisor for the petroleum remediation program, said contamination is generally localized to a specific area and can naturally break down over time.

If the contamination is at extreme levels, MPCA will clean up the site to avoid danger to nearby residents.

Pollutants at the sites can be removed using Petrofund – money gathered from consumer gas sales and administered by the Commerce Department.

“As the budget gets a little tighter, it’s harder to do some of those projects,” Rafferty said. “The issue here is who helps clean up abandoned sites. It sometimes takes much longer to clean those up.”

Rafferty said polluted soils that can be spread on the land will be removed and put into landfills. He said the goal is to remove the pollutants before they seep into the ground.

“If (the pollutants) get into the ground and affect the ground water, the cleanups can get more costly,” Rafferty said.

Newquist said he is also concerned with surface contamination, which can pose a bigger threat to neighboring families.

Since 1980, more than 14,000 petroleum contaminants have been reported. MPCA has investigated 11,000 of those sites and provided necessary cleanup.

Once the survey is finished the sites can be cleaned up for industrial or commercial business use.

John Harrington, MCDA project coordinator, said after testing has been concluded and any necessary cleanup is done, MCDA plans to develop the properties.

“We always try to get neighborhood input first to see what they’d like to see at the location,” Harrington said. “Then we’d start working with developers to build new facilities.”

“Our hope is, through a partnership with MCDA, we can move along this assessment more quickly,” Newquist said. “We’d like to speed it up so development could take place sooner.”


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