Smell sparks fears of petrol contamination
By DAWN COHEN
PETROL may be contaminating the Richmond River at Ballina following a large spill two weeks ago.
The Ballina Fire Brigade is investigating complaints of a methane-like smell emanating from stormwater drains on the Pacific Highway just opposite the Big Prawn Petrol Station.
Two weeks before, a fuel tanker driver at the landmark Caltex garage tried to pump a delivery of 8000 liters of unleaded petrol into a disconnected underground tank, spilling the fuel into sandy soil surrounding the tanks.
Mop-up operations were carried out, but heavy rains late last week increased the risk that some fuel may have found its way into the stormwater drainage systems linked to the canals in Ballina Quays.
Ballina Fire Brigade station commander Dennis Henry did not find evidence of hydrocarbons on Saturday, the presence of which would prove petrol contamination.
"There was a methane smell, but it was not strong," he said.
"It may not have been hydrocarbons."
As a protective measure, the fire brigade put foam down the drains.
Fuel-absorbent booms were also placed in the canal.
Kalinga Street resident Sue Wilson said she had noticed a petrol-like smell on the Pacific Highway, but none at her home on the canal.
"The fire brigade were here for most of the afternoon," she said.
"They did not tell us anything."
Ballina Shire Council is the regulatory body respon- sible for investigating the accident.
"The canal is connected directly to the Richmond River, so any pollution is a matter of concern," senior environmental health officer Kerri Watts said.
"Hydrocarbons in the water would have an impact on the fish habitat and aquatic life.
"Caltex are looking into it.
"We had thought the spill was contained at the site.
"We will be conducting an investigation."
Results could take months, Ms Watts said.
About four years ago fuel from the same petrol station leached into the canal, said Graham Plumb, Ballina Shire Council environmental health manager.
Lengthy investigations were undertaken before the problem was exposed.
"A fault between the fuel tanks and the pumps was thought to be the source," he said.
Big Prawn Petrol Station owner Angela Brand declined to comment.
What do you think?
Phone the Star Feedback line on 6624 3266 or email opin- firstname.lastname@example.org