Delaware County officials are looking to employ some new tools in tracking a mysterious petroleum smell that keeps popping up along the Delaware River and other potential hazards, Emergency Services Director Tim Boyce said Tuesday.
Boyce said his office has been working to form some kind of Mariner East pipeline response group with fire departments and municipalities across the county. A meeting on that topic took place Monday night and issues with a mysterious odor that has cropped up three times in recent months were combined into that group.
“Really the ask was, ‘What can Delaware County do to better support our first responders in the field?’ and then on the back end we had some ask that they could help us in the ongoing investigation,” said Boyce.
Boyce said that discussion resulted in a few solid ideas, including an automatic countywide notification that would alert stakeholders like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, PECO and the county hazmat team when a series of calls comes in reporting the strange odor.
The goal is to try to get a 360-degree “net” around the next event to better track its source, rather than expending time and resources chasing 911 reports as they come in from civilians. Boyce said part of that would be looking into getting sophisticated meters into the hands of first responders in the field so they can better determine what the product is, currently believed to be petroleum-based rather than natural gas.
Another idea would be putting portable wind-speed devices across the county at locations like fire departments and schools that would more accurately track where the odor is moving from.
“The older method that we call the airport and check the wind speed and direction (there) really doesn’t help us when we’re trying to get to the micro-level of what’s going on in Brookhaven, what’s going on in Upland,” said Boyce. “That information will help us forensically, but will also help first responders on any type of release. They know exactly which way the wind is blowing for a host of events that we might need to evacuate.”
An unrelated event last month involving an apparent valve malfunction at a Sunoco pumping station near the Tunbridge apartments on Glen Riddle Road has also prompted emergency services to seek legislative help.
Boyce said that currently, there is no requirement for gas and oil companies operating pipelines to report leaks at fixed facilities like pumping stations in real time.
“So the company might get an alarm saying there’s a potential leak, they’ll go investigate it, and there’s an inherent build-up of time that we just don’t feel is safe,” he said. “Going back to the Tunbridge event, 911 was only notified when a civilian called in and that product had traveled some distance when that happened.”
Boyce is hoping to petition the state legislature to mandate such releases are reported as soon as the company becomes aware of them so first responders can quickly activate and get to the scene.
Boyce said Monday’s meeting exemplified the kinds of steps county government is taking to be more involved with emergency situations and support first responders from the outset of incidents, rather than coming in later.
“All of us getting there an hour later really is not as productive as all of us being notified real-time in the first few minutes that an event is unfolding,” he said. “I think our public communication, or public warning system, could be used better if we have that capability.”