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It was discovered Monday when the Lenoir Fire Department received several calls from people who said they smelled gasoline along Harper Avenue near the downtown area.
"We came out and looked and found sheen on the water of a creek behind business," said Captain Sam Smith. "We tracked it back to here."
Here, as he put it, is the Traveler Convenience store and gas station. It's believed one of the four 10,000 gallon underground tanks is leaking.
"It's nobody's fault," said Zafar Jan, who owns the station. Jan said there have been no problems in the five years he has been involved with the business.
Environmental Protection Agency On-Scene-Coordinator Kenneth Rhame said store owners are supposed to monitor supplies and systems and that Jan was doing that. Still, he said, leaks can happen.
Special haz-mat teams have been digging at the site since Tuesday morning trying to find the source of the leak. A deep hole next to one tank has been dug and several inches of gasoline have seeped into that hole.
A strong smell of gasoline vapors is in the air around the store. It is why Lenoir Fire Department trucks and firefighters were at the ready around the site. They weren't concerned about an explosion but a flash fire.
"It would be quick and probably not cause major damage but we are here for the safety of the cleanup crews and the public," said Assistant Fire Chief Ken Hair. A plan is in place to close busy Harper Avenue if need be, but so far that has not been necessary, though at times traffic has slowed to a crawl around the site.
The creek is being watched by haz-mat crews. Absorbing booms have been put in place and officials say the amount of gasoline in the water has decreased dramatically since Monday. Rhame said water supplies are not threatened at this time and that much of the cleanup will be done naturally. "It will take a few weeks but nature's rains should wash the banks sufficiently and dilute what may be there."
The cost of the search for the leak and the eventual cleanup that will be needed could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The store owners would be responsible for that cost. "It is part of being a businessman," said Jan. At worst case, Jan said he could always stop selling gas. "I could just keep the store open to make enough money to feed my family."
Local officials are hoping that the digging and cleanup can be finished in just a few more days. The creek and soil around the site will be monitored for at least the next few weeks, possibly months, said the EPA.