EPA: The infamous odor near Speedway poses no apparent public health threat

BUCKHANNON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reassuring Upshur County residents that, as far it knows, the air and water they consume are safe in the wake of worry about a possible oil product spill near Speedway.

Last week, Region 3 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a public notice to the city and other agencies providing an update on the Jawbone Run Oil Spill that was discovered in January and February after First Community Bank opted to temporarily shut its doors due to the stench. The bank reopened March 19.

“The smell” – a gasoline-like odor – was believed to have originated near the Speedway parking lot that runs along Route 20 and Green Street.

In a March 2024 public notice, the EPA provided an update on its assessment and cleanup of the area.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with its contractors, are working with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, local city officials, and the Speedway at 1 Green Street to assess the threat of an oil product (fuel or other petroleum byproduct) spill to Jawbone Run,” the document says.

The update reassures residents their water supply is safe, saying it still hasn’t found any indications that any oil products have leaked into Jawbone Run, an underground creek in that area that feeds into the Buckhannon River.

“The EPA has not observed signs of an oil product spill to Jawbone (Run) but has initiated cleanup actions to remove spilled oil product underground and alleviate the release of vapors into the community,” the release says. “The source of the spill has not yet been confirmed.”

The EPA assured residents that “a substantial amount of oil product has been removed” and it plans to identify the odor’s source in subsequent cleanup activities.

The agency also plans to maintain the “passive recovery wells” currently set up in the area to collect spilled oil product that is flowing underground with an absorbent sheet that must be replaced when fully saturated, according to the EPA.  

Passive recovery wells are also equipped with barriers that stop the release of unwanted, dangerous or unpleasant vapors into the air.

In addition, an air monitoring device was placed in the vicinity of the odor and it initially detected that oil product vapors were higher than normal. However, that’s since changed for the better.

“Initial results of air monitoring for oil product vapors in the excavation area came from multiple analyzers and were at elevated levels,” the EPA document says. “Since the initial cleanup, the vapors readings in this area have fallen to acceptable levels and pose no current risk to residents.”

Excavation activities are wrapping up, but the EPA and its contractors will remain in Buckhannon for the coming weeks, and citizens may see EPA contractors carrying air monitoring meters or changing out the absorbent material used to soak up oil product in the passive recovery wells.

Anyone with questions may contact the on-site coordinator, Kevin Clark, by email at clark.kevin@epa.gov or Region 3’s community involvement coordinator, Renata Thakurdyal, at thakurdyal.renata@epa.gov.

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