MEDIA — Unable to determine the cause of two widespread noxious odors within three weeks and dissatisfied with the method of notification regarding a gasoline leak from pipeline, Delaware County's top Emergency Services official called for a criminal investigation.

"I really think a criminal investigation needs to begin because someone is willfully doing this," Delaware County Emergency Services Director Timothy Boyce said of the odor incidents. "We're not able to determine the source of the product release ... It's not impossible that somebody's trying to dump chemicals. We're not taking this lightly."

He explained that Chester has been dealing with the odors of gas all summer long in which county hazardous materials teams would respond but the source was not able to be located.

On Oct. 25, the county's 911 Center received calls from first responders and residents in the area of Chester Heights, Aston and Concordville of an unidentifiable odor that smelled like gasoline or home heating oil. Then, calls from Broomall, Newtown Square, Media and Springfield were received. Some callers reported sore throats and headaches. Some businesses closed and the Chester Charter School dismissed early.

On Monday morning, another foul-smelling odor was reported along Route 291 in Ridley and then it wafted over Chester, Eddystone, Ridley Park and Glenolden. Boyce said Boeing was prepared to evacuate their entire campus but did not.

Monday evening, several residents called reporting a smell of gasoline in the Middletown area near the Tunbridge Apartments. Boyce said when first responders arrived, two workers became nauseous as they discovered contractors tending to a leak from a Sunoco pipeline valve station.

A statement released by Energy Transfer Partners spokeswoman Vicki Granado read, "It is always our goal to communicate as quickly and efficiently as possible with all the appropriate entities, including Delaware County officials. I can confirm that there were representatives from the county onsite that evening along with representatives from Mdiddletown Township, the (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) and the (Public Utility Commission)."

Boyce has asked for Delaware County Council's help in appealing to the DEP formally.

"I'm really asking for council with me to bring in all the stakeholders and make sure they are going to investigate this," he said. "Again, no one is owning up to the condition ... We have to have someone with more authority investigate this."

Boyce explained what the incidents have been like. "One minute you're standing there and it's overwhelming and then, it's gone," he said. "That's what we're dealing with."

He also expressed frustration about an event Monday evening after the 911 Center received a resident call reporting a smell of gasoline in the Tunbridge Apartments area.

Boyce said when first responders arrived "at the valve station ... there were contractors working already. Those contractors reported they had a product release on the campus that they were attempting to control ... I was told by the first responders that they saw a pooling of the product on the ground and significant pooling of product."

He emphatically said no one notified him specifically about the situation.

Janelle Fairwell, who lives adjacent to the apartment complex said, "Before I knew what had happened, I didn't smell anything. I was sitting in my kitchen and I just felt sick, nauseous."

Then, she let her dog out. "When I opened up my backdoor, that's when I could smell it," she said. "It was so powerful it stung my eyes. My eyes started twitching. My eyes twitched for three days afterward."

Fairwell added, "It was really concerning to me just sitting there with my children in bed, my husband in bed, not knowing what to do. Not knowing if I should be in a car and leave, not being notified. There just didn't seem to be general concern about what was happening - that's a big concern for me."

Delaware County Councilman Brian Zidek noted, "We can't inform the community until we ourselves learn about it." Although he said once the county is aware of a situation, there should be a way for notifications to be made.

Fairwell moved to Delaware County from Washington state two years ago and thought the pipeline would be a passing issue.

"I have never lived in an area where this is a constant environmental crisis going on," she said. "A year goes by, two years go by and this is still happening ... As an outsider looking in, it's appalling and it shouldn't be happening."

That concern was echoed by Rachel Ezzell Berry of Middletown, who learned of the leak via Facebook as residents posted their addresses and ailments from headaches, dizziness, watering and burning eyes and noses to sore throats, nausea and difficulties breathing, as well as overwhelming chemical smells in their yard and homes.

Living near the pipeline, she grabbed her 14-month-old and drove to her mother's house.

"I'm concerned about what the future plans are for emergency notification or response for pipeline failures in the future," she said.

Delaware County Council shared the concerns of residents and emergency responders.

Council Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone said a total analysis of the event was needed until it is determined what is causing these incidents "so that we understand and use the opportunity to better prepare our systems and react to things that are occurring."

Zidek said the gasoline leak is more than one incident. 

"We've had sinkhole after sinkhole," he said. "We've had waterways spoiled. We've had drinking water spoiled and it feels like death by a thousand cuts there and I'm concerned ... maybe we've got a red warning light flashing all over the place here and we really need to increase our oversight on this project because it doesn't seem that Energy Transfer Partners is doing a good job overseeing it."

County Councilman Kevin Madden addressed the weaknesses of a self-reporting system as companies are expected to report to state and federal agencies within a time frame, often 24 hours, when an incident has occurred.

"The current structure is not a sustainable one," he said. "It's not an acceptable one where the pipeline operator is the one who's expected to self-report. What they've shown over and over again is they're not doing that."

comments powered by Disqus