It's comforting that the state has an aggressive and seemingly comprehensive plan to clean up gasoline that leaked into the ground near Ninth and Louisiana streets. But it's disconcerting to realize that state regulations allowed the contamination to go undetected until it triggered a fire that destroyed a house containing five apartments.
While the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is attacking the gasoline contamination, state lawmakers should get to work on measures to tighten the process by which gasoline stations monitor their systems and report leaks.
KDHE will construct a temporary pump and filtering facility on the site of the destroyed home, install vapor alarms in a dozen homes, and keep an eye on 25 monitoring wells that have been located around the area of the leak. Officials will be watching the situation, especially during periods of heavy rainfall and expect the majority of the fuel to be removed in two months, with the cleanup to be completed in a year.
The situation now seems to be marginally under control, which is more than can be said of the circumstances leading up to the April 30 fire.
State law only requires gasoline stations to report fuel losses if they represent more than 1 percent of their monthly sales. Owners of the Presto Phillips 66 station at 602 W. Ninth St. reported the apparent loss of 2,300 gallons of fuel in February, but that wasn't enough to trigger an investigation because it was less than 7,000 gallons or 1 percent of the station's monthly sales. It wasn't until after a loss of slightly more than 7,000 gallons in March that KDHE looked into the problem.
To compound the problem, KDHE decided in mid-April that the missing gasoline was the result of the pumps being miscalibrated, not a leaking tank. By the end of April, a house was smoldering in ruins and the matter finally got the attention it deserved.
The 1 percent standard, officials said, is a recognition that measuring gasoline in an underground tank is an inexact process. However, most people who live or work near a gasoline station probably think that a law that allows 7,000 gallons of gasoline to seep into nearby soil before anyone even starts an investigation is a bit too lax.
KDHE's director of environment said the department would be reviewing the Lawrence situation to see whether revised regulations might have prevented the spill or allowed it to be detected more quickly.
To a layman, the answer seems obvious. The leakage and fire in Lawrence could have been avoided, and the state should tighten its regulations to make sure similar incidents don't occur in other Kansas communities, perhaps with more tragic consequences.