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Diesel dirt safe in local landfill

WOLCOTT, Colorado – It’s safe for contaminated dirt from a diesel fuel spill to be dumped in the Eagle County landfill, local and state environmental officials said.

A tanker truck spilled 7,200 gallons of diesel fuel just east of Eagle on March 8 when a motorist collided with the truck and caused the wreck, the Colorado State Patrol said.

Most of the fuel spilled into the median. Crews from the Arvada firm Custom Environmental Services Inc. are handling the cleanup, which began the morning of the spill.

The contaminated dirt is being dug out and hauled in covered trucks to the Eagle County landfill.

“Given the integrity of this system, this is probably the best place on the planet for it,” said Ken Whitehead, Eagle County’s solid waste manager.

The local landfill has received about 1,000 tons of contaminated dirt so far, a significant chunk of the 65,000-70,000 tons they get annually, Whitehead said.

The landfill is lined with clay and shale for about 1,000 feet under it, Whitehead said.

There’s no such thing as a perfect landfill; they all leak, Whitehead said, but ours is close.

“It would take 300 years to get to the property line, if there is a leak, and by that time it hopefully would have cleaned itself up,” Whitehead said.

Cleanup cost

The landfill gets $37.68 per ton to accept the contaminated soil.

So, the local landfill will see almost $40,000 in revenue when it’s over.

But that’s not the entire cleanup cost.

The contaminated dirt has to be excavated and trucked to the landfill. Then the hole in the I-70 median has to be backfilled with clean dirt.

Eyeballing it, Whitehead estimated it could cost someone’s insurance company more than $100,000.

CDOT does highway maintenance, but someone else will pick up the tab for the cleanup, either the trucking company’s insurance company or the driver who caused the accident, Mohr said.

Could be worse

The material is put through a battery of tests before the landfill can accept it, Whitehead said. And yes, a diesel spill is bad, but diesel is not as bad as many other chemicals.

“It’s diesel fuel. As far as fuel goes, it’s about as good as we could hope for. If it had been unleaded gasoline it would have been much, much worse,” said Ashley Mohr, CDOT spokesperson. “Diesel fuel is as biodegradable as fuel can be.”

There’s some chemistry involved, but basically the molecules that compose diesel fuel will break down. Different materials go into different categories, and diesel fuel is considered safe, Mohr said.

She called the 7,200 gallons of diesel a “significant” spill. The tanker truck holds more than 8,000 gallons.

“It could have been worse. The dirt where it spilled was dry and soaked it up quickly. All things being relative, we were lucky,” Mohr said.

County’s largest spill

The spill is the largest anyone can remember in Eagle County, according to the Eagle County Environmental Health department. The next largest was 4,900 gallons of methanol spilled last October when a tanker truck hit the East Vail truck ramp.

Much of the diesel fuel spilled earlier this month soaked down into the median, where it’s being dug out and the holes backfilled with clean dirt, Mohr said. A little spilled on the north side where the truck rolled onto its right side and skidded to a stop.

Custom Environmental Services dug a trench on the south side to learn whether the fuel seeped under the highway and toward the Eagle River. So far it has not, and they keep testing it, Mohr said.

If the Eagle County landfill had not been able to take the contaminated dirt, CDOT would have had to truck it all the way to Eads, on the Eastern Plains near the Kansas border.

While the cleanup is going on, the right lane of Interstate 70 will be closed in both directions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this week. Both lanes will open at night when CES crews are not working.

Custom Environmental Service has been handling spills of this type for a decade and a half, the company said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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