Railroad to clean up spill with venting, bacteria

Posted: Monday, April 17, 2000

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Railroad has decided against hauling out tons of contaminated soil from the site of a train derailment where 120,000 gallons of jet fuel was spilled.

Ernie Piper, the railroad's assistant vice president for safety and environmental compliance, said moving the fuel-soaked ground would require digging a huge pit more than 30 feet deep. That would be dangerous for workers and threaten the stability of the railroad tracks, Piper said.

Instead of moving the polluted soil, contractors now plan to pump air into the ground to vent some of the fuel vapors and to stimulate bacteria that will feed on and break down the hydrocarbons. The microbes exist naturally, Piper said. ``They're local hire.''

The derailment occurred Dec. 22, 36 miles north of Talkeetna.

Railroad officials no longer think the spilled fuel poses a threat to the nearby Susitna River. Neither rising groundwater nor surface runoff is likely to carry fuel into the river, Piper said.

``It's a very stable site,'' he said. ``There's not a lot of migration.''

Railroad contractors have drilled sentinel wells between the spill site and the river and are manning a round-the-clock work camp at Gold Creek. If the fuel begins moving, crews have heavy equipment on the site to dig trenches or barriers to intercept it before it reaches the river, Piper said.

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