MDEQ works to clean up tank leak

Published 2:53 am Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s Emergency Services Division is working with Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz’s Office, the Picayune Fire Department, and the Pearl River County Emergency Management Agency to clean up buried tanks filled with mercaptan. These tanks were illegally buried near Global Lane in Picayune. The removal should be finished soon, but the smell of mercaptan may linger before it dissipates into the atmosphere.

Mercaptan is a strong smelling, non-toxic chemical additive to natural gas that makes it easier to detect natural gas leaks. MDEQ is conducting air monitoring for flammability and believes groundwater should not be affected. Mercaptan is not considered a health hazard unless someone is standing directly over the undiluted material so MDEQ advises people not to go within 100 feet of the clean up site.

“Our agency responded after receiving complaints recently about a strong smell in the area. We found tanks of mercaptan illegally buried, and we are conducting a removal of the tanks. The work should be completed in the next few days, and although the substance is not harmful unless you are very close to the source, we encourage the public to stay away from the site,” said Eric Dear, Chief of MDEQ’s Emergency Services Division.

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“We would like to thank the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for responding quickly to our problem and managing this situation. This removal will soon be completed, and the mercaptan and the odor will be gone,” said Bobby Strahan, Director of the Pearl River County Emergency Management Agency.

Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown added, “We are working closely with all the other agencies, and we believe this situation is not a health hazard. If it was a health hazard, we would have evacuated the area.”

Southern District Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz is pursuing his investigation into how these tanks were buried on this property and who was responsible for this unlawful disposal of them. Mark McCarver of his staff, along with Southern District Public Service Commission inspectors, Michael Sharp, and Wiley Walker met with MDEQ and other officials this week to assist in locating and identifying the mercaptan odor in the neighborhood.

McCarver stated, “This has been a rather lengthy investigation by our agency, the MDEQ, and other state and county agencies working in this area. I am glad that a cause has been identified and removed, allowing these citizens to go back to their normal lifestyle.”

All agencies involved encourage the public to call if they have concerns or questions and if the smell of mercaptan is not gone in a few days.