Noe Valley Voice May 1997

Dan's Gas to Start Major Soil Cleanup

By Joe Franklin

It has been seven years since a combination of waste oil and gasoline leaked from two underground storage tanks at Dan's Gas and Auto Service at 3865 24th St. The spill contaminated the ground of surrounding properties to a depth of 15 feet, deep enough to reach the water table.

Since 1990, station owners John McCarthy and Fred Hornblower have removed both storage tanks, installed wells to monitor soil toxicity levels (both onsite and off), and worked with two companies to design ways to rid the site of hazardous waste. They've also held numerous meetings with local residents and environmental health officials. Still, they've made very little progress toward actually purifying the soil that was once a backyard play area for neighboring children.

This month, however, the station owners are launching a two-phase cleanup, intended to remove any gas and oil residue from the soil.

Over the next few weeks, SEACOR (Scientific Engineering and Analysis Corporation), a San Francisco firm hired by Hornblower and McCarthy, will be installing a special soil vapor extraction system on the site. The contractor expects to have it in place by the end of May.

The system, which has the support of the city's Bureau of Environmental Health Management, uses a vacuum unit and a series of underground wells and pipes to extract gasoline vapors from the soil and suck up any contaminated ground water.

Once extracted, the toxic fumes will be oxidized into a mix of water and carbon dioxide. The purified vapors will then be sent into the atmosphere via an exhaust system housed in a small soundproofed building on the Haystack Restaurant side of what is now Dan's Service Station (the station no longer sells gas). The cleansed water will be filtered back into the city's sewer system.

Estimates are that the vapor extraction unit, designed to burn cleaner than a car engine, will run continuously for one to two years, with monthly progress reports submitted to the bureau's Division of Hazardous Materials.

Once the system has been proven to be operating efficiently, the station owners will then begin the second phase of the project: eradicating any contamination of nearby yards.

Cherie D'Andrea, who is overseeing the project for the city, said someone from SEACOR would need to be on hand for the first week to monitor operation of the extraction system. After that, they'll do periodic checkups.

In the meantime, Hornblower and McCarthy will have to get separate approval from the State Water Resources Control Board for their private property excavation plans, because it is the state that will fund much of that project, D'Andrea said.

"Soil vapor extraction works well for volatile compounds such as gas, but waste oil is not volatile, and so they're going to need to excavate the adjacent properties," she explained. "Also, they still need to choose a contractor for that project, and that's going to take additional time. Maybe by September they'll be able to get started."

D'Andrea noted that all nearby property owners and interested citizens would receive copies of the progress reports.

Roberta McGowan, who lives at 308 Vicksburg St., adjacent to the station, has two children who have not been allowed to play in their own back yard since a neighbor noticed the black waste oil oozing out of a nearby wall in 1990.

"Over the years I've had eight holes dug in my yard so they can take their quarterly samples, and all are still giving major readouts," she said. "And we're not alone," McGowan added. "They've taken samples from half a dozen nearby yards, and they've all come back positive. They're scared to death to look anymore because everywhere they've looked, they've found. If they do this right, it's going to be a very expensive cleanup for them."

As matters stand now, the price tag for the cleanup at the station is hovering around $200,000, with the state promising to pay about 60 percent. That leaves Hornblower and McCarthy responsible for $80,000.

And the station owners have already shelled out $100,000 for the 1993 removal of the tanks and other operations. Hornblower says he and McCarthy are as anxious as anyone to get the ball rolling.

"We've had a lot of complications with people in the area," Hornblower said. "There were hearings at Lick School a year and a half ago, and then another six months of waiting to get the permits. Now it's finally reached a point where we're able to install the system. It's been frustrating for us as well to have it take so long."

Hornblower admits that contamination from the tanks did seep into the city's water table, but he is quick to point out that San Francisco's wells are not used for drinking water.

"At some places the technique is just to dig up the soil and let it air out a bit," he continued. "But the city and state have been very clear about what they want, and we're doing all we can to comply. This system we're putting in is a proven one that's in use all over the state."

Although McGowan has shown keen interest in the steps being taken to clean up the station's property, she is understandably more concerned with what is being done to make her own property safe.

"It's been seven years now of our not having a back yard, and still they're not even started," she said, with mounting exasperation. "This used to be a family's back yard, where we had a tree swing and Easter egg hunts. My kids will be off to college and away from it all before this thing is resolved."

For more details about the project, call the city's Bureau of Environmental Health Management at 252-3800. Citizens are also welcome to come view the case files at 1390 Market St., Suite 210. /P>