Oil leak at Swiftwater Elementary affects neighborhoods in the Poconos

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PARADISE TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Floodwaters receded but there’s a strong smell of oil lingering, people who live there say they’re experiencing adverse effects.

Neighbors along Swiftwater Creek called 911 to report the smell Tuesday morning. Around the same time, people working at Sanofi Pasteur along Route 611 noticed oil in the storm drain and the section of Swiftwater Creek that runs through their property and alerted Pocono Mountain School District.

“This morning I woke up and came outside and the smell just hit me in the face,” said Julia Rettle, a concerned neighbor from Paradise Township

“Significant fumes, respiratory issues for both myself, my husband, my children and the headache came back pretty strong again,” said Dr. Ashley Woodrow, another concerned neighbor from Paradise Township.

Homeowners on Lower Swiftwater Road say they noticed a strong smell of oil and started feeling symptoms like dizziness and headaches after the flash floods early Monday morning.

Tuesday, Rettle called 911. She says firefighters noticed an oil sheen on Swiftwater Creek about 25 yards from her house.

They contacted DEP officials who placed booms along the creek to catch the oil. The dep confirmed heating oil was leaking out of a 10,000 gallon underground tank near Swiftwater Intermediate School.

The DEP has told us:

The release appears to have been caused by excavation activity at the school (not sure if  flood related) which allowed water to enter into a 10,000 gallon underground storage tank storing heating oil at the school. 

The water displaced the oil within the tank causing it to be released to the subsurface through the underground tank top connections.

The fuel is believed to have migrated through underground drainage piping into the storm water collection system, which eventually discharges to Swiftwater Creek. The discharge to storm water has reportedly been stopped.

DEP is directing the school district to hire a contractor to perform cleanup actions and a site characterization… Determine the extent of the contamination in the ground.

Pocono Mountain School District officials say the cause is under investigation and the leak has been stopped. Neighbors say the smell is still there, and so are their concerns.

“I don’t know how dangerous it is because they haven’t told us anything,” said Rettle.

The DEP said the leak shouldn’t affect the wells on the properties along the creek. But homeowners like Rettle aren’t taking any chances. She and Woodrow say they want guidance from authorities on how they should be protecting their families.

“I would like tests of the creek showing that the creek is not polluted, I would like tests of the air done,” stated Rettle.

“We’re all going to be leaving for the night, potentially for the next few nights until at least some of it evaporates and it’s what seems to be a safe level to return,” said Woodrow

The DEP has instructed Pocono Mountain School District to hire an independent consultant to conduct any necessary soil sample tests.

We reached back out to the DEP asking if residents along the creek will be notified of the leak and if there will be any more testing on the water we are awaiting their response.

Pocono Mountain School District officials said they’ll receive a report from DEP that will specify the environmental cleanup and mitigation efforts.

In a statement Pocono Mountain School District officials said:

August 24, 2021, Pocono Mountain School District (PMSD) officials received a call from Sanofi Pasteur-Swiftwater officials regarding what appeared to be some heating oil in the storm drain and a portion of the Swiftwater Creek that runs through their property.

PMSD officials immediately notified a D’Huy engineer to investigate the possible cause of the oil leak and the PA Department of Environmental Protection. DEP officials and the D’Huy engineer responded quickly and were onsite on the Swiftwater Campus today to investigate this matter. It is believed the heating oil leak came from an in-ground heating oil tank near the Swiftwater Intermediate School. The cause of the tank leak is still under investigation.

PMSD was able to plug the area of the tank leak today to stop any further leakage of oil into the stormwater drain or Swiftwater Creek. Local wells should not be impacted, but PMSD will hire an independent consultant to conduct any necessary soil sample tests under the direction of DEP.

PMSD officials will receive a report from DEP that will specify the environmental cleanup and mitigation efforts for the district to follow.  PMSD officials are committed to mitigating this oil leak as quickly as possible under the direction of PA DEP.  

Pocono Mountain School District

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