2013-08-16 / Front Page

Smell from tank worries neighbors

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Some residents in Ferry Village say cleaning an oil storage tank has caused health concerns. Portland Pipe Line Corp., which owns the storage tank, conducted emissions tests during regularly scheduled cleanings. A spokesman from the company said cleaning presented no health risks. (courtesy photo) Some residents in Ferry Village say cleaning an oil storage tank has caused health concerns. Portland Pipe Line Corp., which owns the storage tank, conducted emissions tests during regularly scheduled cleanings. A spokesman from the company said cleaning presented no health risks. (courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – Some residents in the Ferry Village neighborhood of South Portland said they are concerned a routine cleaning of a nearby oil tank may pose a health risk. However, Portland Pipe Line Corp. said air sampling conducted in conjunction with an environmental safety firm revealed no emissions from the cleaning of tank 28 on Preble Street.

Karen Sanford moved into her Preble Street home from Portland about three years ago. During that time, Sanford has fallen in love with the close-knit feel of the small neighborhood, where residents frequently spend time outside gardening or say hello when they pass by each other on the street.

“This is where parents teach their kids to ride their two-wheelers. It’s where families walk or jog with strollers. It’s where teenagers try out their skateboards,” Sanford said.

Across from the small neighborhood of tightly clustered homes, Portland Pipe Line Corp. has operated its business on a pier in Casco Bay for more than 70 years, unloading crude oil from the docks for transport to Montreal.

Mary Jane Lane, another Ferry Village resident, said for the last five years she has “never wondered or worried about” the Portland Pipe Line Corp.’s two storage tanks on the opposite side of Preble Street, as the company has coexisted in relative harmony with the neighborhood.

However, Lane said she began hearing a hissing noise early in the summer from the Portland Pipe Line Corp.’s tank, then began to occasionally smell fumes with an odor similar to kerosene. When Sanford noticed a strong odor while her two grandchildren, age 6 and 9, came for a visit, she was alarmed enough to call Portland Pipe Line Corp. June 26.

“I didn’t know if I should go ahead and read with them. I sat there knowing that I had made a decision to expose them to something. I don’t know how strong it is, I don’t know what it is, but it’s strong enough that it smells, and it’s worrisome to their health and mine. I didn’t know as a grandmother if I made a good decision,” Sanford said.

Lane said she started to have similar doubts this summer because of constant noise from the tank.

“The hissing is so persistent you can’t forget about it. You’re in your yard doing things and you’re happy. Then you hear the hissing and think, ‘Are we safe?’”

When she called Portland Pipe Line Corp., Sanford said each of the company’s representatives were friendly and helpful on the phone.

They explained the fumes from the crude oil residue in the tank need to be eliminated before they could bring in employees from Clean Harbors Environmental Services, a company that disposes of hazardous materials in an environmentally sound manner.

According to Sanford, Portland Pipe Line Corp. employees told her a delay in bringing Clean Harbors to the site caused the noise from the tanks to continue into July and August. However, Ken Small of Clean Harbors said there was no such delay. According to Small, the process has proceeded normally and is scheduled to be finished about Sunday, Aug. 18.

Jim Merrill, a spokesman for Portland Pipe Line Corp., said ongoing work at tank 28 “is a routinely scheduled cleaning to allow for regulated inspection of the tank’s condition.”

“PMPL (Portland-Montreal Pipe Line) has conducted this type of regularly scheduled tank maintenance and cleaning for years, as part of its responsible operating practices,” Merrill continued in the written statement.

Small said both Clean Harbors and Portland Pipe Line Corp. monitor for benzene and other harmful chemicals during the cleaning process to make sure no harmful emissions are being released into the air.

Merrill confirmed the cleaning process does not pose a threat to residents.

“PMPL has worked with an environmental safety firm to conduct air sampling in the vicinity of the tank and nearby homes to determine if there were any emissions from the cleaning. The test results did not detect any emissions,” Merrill said in the statement.

Cathy Chapman, a 20-year South Portland resident and friend of Sanford’s, was less sure the fumes from the tank cleaning are not harmful. Chapman and Sanford are both members of the Concerned Citizens of South Portland, a group of residents formed to convince city voters to enact an ordinance that would prevent the transportation of tar sands oil from Canada to Casco Bay through the Portland- Montreal Pipeline.

Chapman said after a Concerned Citizens’ meeting Aug. 1, she was leaving Sanford’s house and could smell something “sweet” when she stepped out the door. Then, Chapman said she began experiencing what she immediately recognized as an asthma attack. She had difficulty breathing and felt disoriented.

Her friends went inside to fetch her inhaler, which provided enough relief for Chapman to drive home, although according to Chapman, she did not feel fully herself until the next morning.

In the week following Chapman’s attack, Sanford said she noticed a “definite decrease” in the odor and noise as workers from Clean Harbors continued to work to, as Small said, “wall wash” the tank.

Although both Sanford and Chapman are members of a group that aims to prevent the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from transporting tar sands oil through its pipeline in the future, Sanford said she has no problem with the presence of the tanks or Portland Pipe Line Corp. in general.

“This has been a neighbor that has been here a long time and has made contributions to the community. But if you are going to live side by side with industry, industry has to bend over backwards to make sure its neighbors are safe and they feel as safe as they can next to oil tanks,” Sanford said.

Representatives of Portland Pipe Line Corp. and community members have emphasized the sterling, longstanding environmental reputation of the company in discussions surrounding the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance. Portland Pipe Line has operated in South Portland since 1941 without a spill. The company won the American Petroleum Institute’s Distinguished Safety and Environmental Award for Performance in 2011 and 2012.

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