CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Crews are trying to find out how much fuel spilled into Long Creek Sunday night after a tanker truck crashed, spilling 7,500 gallons of fuel along Mount Holly Road.
The road near Interstate 485 in west Charlotte reopened Monday evening.
The wreck happened around 10:30 p.m. near Rockwell Drive.
Officials said there is no threat to drinking water, but some residents are not convinced.
Resident Olicia Brown said she could smell the gasoline two days after the spill.
“We just don’t know, but I’m not drinking no water,” Brown said Tuesday.
The smell of gasoline permeated in the air.
“Yesterday, it was really bad,” Brown said. You could walk out of your door, and the gasoline smell would just, like, hit you in the face. It was terrible.”
Police said a driver ran a stop sign and slammed into the tanker, which then flipped on its side, spilling fuel across the road.
The driver of the tanker was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, officials said.
The tanker was towed away around 5 a.m. Monday but the road remained closed as environmental crews worked to clean up the fuel spill.
The Charlotte Fire Department told Channel 9 Sunday that 7,500 gallons of fuel spilled out of the tanker truck, and Storm Water crews said about 3,000 gallons spilled into Long Creek, which runs into the Catawba River.
Charlotte firefighters sprayed the truck and the road with foam so it wouldn’t start a fire. They also pumped out 500 gallons of gasoline from the tanker. The smell of gasoline in the surrounding neighborhoods was still overwhelming on Tuesday morning.
Brown said the fumes are affecting people’s health, as well.
“We have a Facebook page,” Brown said. “There were a lot of people on (the page) complaining of having headaches, feeling nauseated, not being able to sleep.”
Storm Water crews and the fire department placed booms along Long Creek in order to catch the fuel before it reached the Catawba River and drinking water supply. The last boom on Long Creek prior to the river was catching the remaining fuel.
The city of Belmont was notified because the water feeds into its water supply, but Storm Water officials have since said there is no threat to drinking water.
“It only takes a quart of motor oil to contaminate 240,000 gallons of water,” said Frank LaRosa, manager for Well Doctor. “You have 7,500 gallons of fuel on the ground, in the water system. They started their cleanup pretty quickly, but it’s still down there.”
LaRosa said that until the well water is tested, he recommends people on well water to avoid drinking it, for now.
“I wouldn’t recommend anybody drinking the water in this area if they have a well, at this point, until we figure out what’s going on with it,” LaRosa said.
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Storm Water officials said they’ve seen a few dead fish, and Channel 9 crews saw a bird land in the gas-soaked water and try to drink before flying off.
After hours of work, crews said the contaminated water is no longer making its way downstream.
“The gasoline that’s in the creek has been contained. It’s no longer spreading any further downstream, and it has not made it to the Catawba River,” said Rusty Rozzelle, with Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services. “This does not affect anyone’s drinking water.”
But there is growing concern that well water may be impacted, and Channel 9 has been told the city’s groundwater division is planning on performing some testing Wednesday of the active wells in the area.
Many of the residents in the impacted area are on city water, which is good because the water is treated.
On Tuesday, the company in charge of the clean-up set up equipment along the creek which is meant to skim the surface of the water of any of the gasoline and contain it.
Crews on the other end of the creek were working to clean the tributaries, and that could take weeks.
Since the crash and subsequent gasoline spill, many neighbors are left with concerns about not only the safety of the water but also the smell and environmental impact.
The next big challenge for crews will be a race against the weather. They’re trying to get all the gas out of the creek before any more rain. Heavy rain would only add to the challenge, sending more contaminated water downstream.
Crews said they were able to get most of the gas out on Monday, and the next step will be to remove the contaminated soil. They’ll need to clean it, then backfill in more soil.
Officials said that could take several days.
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