Gas stations tested for pollution

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 30, 2004

On the heels of the announced Meadowcraft purchase of the former Honda All-Lock brownfield site, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said it has also begun evaluating old gas stations across the city to test for possible petroleum contamination.

Robert West of ADEM said Selma was the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to inspect three former gas stations in the city to ensure the properties can eventually “be turned into beneficial reuse.”

The grant is part of the EPA’s Brownfields Initiative to asses and cleanup relatively low-risk petroleum sites for possible expansion or redevelopment.

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“This is a very competitive grant,” said West. “There were 40 other cities in the country who also received this grant, and Selma was the only one from Alabama.”

Mayor James Perkins, Jr. said ADEM is working with the city to check the sites for underground storage tanks and any possible contamination.

“If contamination is low, we can clear the way for investors to build here,” Perkins said. “If there is some contamination found at these sites, it can be cleaned up at no cost to the city.”

The sites include old gas stations at the intersections of Minter Avenue and Broad Street, First Avenue and Marie Foster Street, and Jeff Davis Avenue and Franklin Street.

For the past two weeks a private Birmingham-based environmental consulting firm, PPM Consultants, Inc., has been conducting a study of the three properties.

On Tuesday, the firm brought a large drilling machine to the Minter Avenue site to begin digging into the soil in search of signs for possible contamination.

“By Aug. 16, we should have our preliminary findings,” said PPM consultant Michael McCown.

West said if the consulting firm discovers remaining underground storage tanks or any petroleum contamination in the soil, the grant money will be used to clean up the property to make it more attractive to prospective buyers.

“In petroleum contamination, the risk base factor might not be serious enough to cause ill effects,” West said. “It’s not that people can’t buy the properties (if contaminated), they just don’t want to.”

Dr. Kirit Chapatwala, a microbiologist who is also a consulting on the project, said he worked with the ADEM in finding the properties that would benefit from the study.

“Once Selma got the grant, we started looking for prime locations that businesses might be interested in,” Chapatwala said. “All of these sites are privately owned. The inspection is done at no cost to the owners, and they can benefit from a clean bill of health. If something needs to be done, then we can take care of that, too.”

Chapatwala said the main purpose of the study is to help bring new businesses into the community and ensure the safety of the area.