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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 19) - A recently removed old military aboveground fuel storage tank in Tanapag, Guam, has contaminated groundwater there.

As of yesterday, fuel continued to surface in a pool of groundwater 4 feet deep.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Division of Environmental Quality first noted the presence of fuel in the groundwater on Tuesday of last week.

As of yesterday, the EPA had yet to determine the volume of fuel that is contaminating the groundwater.

The pool of groundwater, measuring about 12 feet by 35 feet, remains where fuel tank no. 6 used to stand. A visit to the site showed that the EPA and DEQ, with the help of private contractor Pacific Environmental Resources Inc., were still siphoning the fuel from the groundwater using a vacuum truck.

"We tried to suck the fuel out on Thursday but it didn’t work until last Saturday, when we used the vacuum truck. So this is just the second day of removing the fuel from the groundwater," EPA on-scene coordinator Michelle Rogow said in an interview at the site yesterday.

Minor excavations in surrounding areas did not show any fuel in the groundwater.

"We think the contaminated groundwater is just beneath where tank No.6 was. The groundwater in this area is shallow, just 4 ft. from the surface," said Rogow.

Tank no. 6, located in an area where houses stand, is one of the six World War II fuel tanks in Tanapag that were priorities for removal.

"Of the six tanks we removed, this is the worst in terms of groundwater contamination," Rogow added.

The tanks targeted for removal were nos. 4, 6, 10, 12, 13 and 14.

For tank No. 14, the EPA excavated 206.75 tons of fuel-contaminated soil.

These tanks are about 50 feet in diameter and about 20 feet high. The Navy built the Tanapag fuel farm to store fuel for ships and aircraft during World War II and through the 1950s. After the end of war, 42 tanks were abandoned in Tanapag.

In 1998, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey showed that 25 of those tanks were still visible on the ground, six of which were considered high priority for removal due to the potential health hazards they posed.

Between two and three weeks ago, the EPA and DEQ excavated fuel-contaminated soil at the site of tank no. 6 to ensure the cleanup met residential standards.

Rogow said when they removed tank no. 6, they noticed holes in it, indicating possible fuel leakage.

"We found (oil) in the groundwater last Tuesday; it’s Navy special fuel oil," said Rogow, adding that the EPA will remove all the fuel oil from the groundwater.

The bigger question, however, is the government’s plan for the site once the groundwater is cleaned. The property where former fuel tank no. 6 stood is public land.

Last week, acting Gov. Joseph M. Mendiola commended Rogow and 21 other personnel from DEQ and the Seattle-based company Environmental Quality Management for initiating the Tanapag fuel tank removal project.

The fuel tank removal project is being completed through a partnership between the EPA and DEQ. The project cost $500,000 and was funded by the EPA.

The tanks’ removal came more than 60 years after World War II. DEQ said lack of funding was the major reason why the project took so long to finally get off the ground.

June 20, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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