Homeowners near Jefferson Elementary School might have been shocked and a little concerned, recently, after they received surveys about a petroleum leak at the school. The seepage happened last summer when Peer Engineering was removing an underground storage tank at the site.
“What we did last summer is we took out the underground storage tanks at Jefferson, and we determined we had a little seepage from the ground,” Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) director of buildings and grounds Bill O’Laughlin explained. “There was very little. We’ll be receiving the full report in a couple of weeks.”
According to O’Laughlin, the surveys are handed out to residents, usually within 500 feet of the seepage, which is a state requirement for a petroleum spill. “It had to be reported,” WAPS superintendent Scott Hannon said of the leak, reiterating O’Laughlin’s statement. “I don’t think it is anything to worry about, but it had to be reported. [Peer Engineering] sends out a letter to homeowners within 500 feet that says to report if anyone notices a smell or anything unusual.”
Matt Erickson, an environmental professional at Peer Engineering based in Eden Prairie, did not directly work on the project that involved the leak from the Jefferson petroleum tank, but he did speak on general terms of fuel oil tank leaks. “I wouldn’t be too concerned,” he said when asked if Jefferson students and faculty, as well as nearby homeowners, should be afraid of the petroleum leak. But Erickson, who also explained that underground oil fuel tanks are usually used as backup to a school’s boiler system, made sure to note that petroleum is a hazardous material, especially when a lot of it leaks. “It’s flammable, of course it is [hazardous]. If it leaks and gets into ground water, it’s hazardous.”
Fortunately for Jefferson students, faculty and nearby residents, O’Laughlin said that they were not anticipating any seepage of petroleum into the ground.
Erickson said he did not "necessarily" believe the age of the building had much to do with the leak. “It’s generally the type of soil and moisture content, and what kind of oxidation rate is going on,” he explained. “A lot of newer tanks going in will have more updated material to make [a leak] less likely, but it really goes down to the soil chemistry.