A suspected gasoline spill continues to flush out of the Lost River Cave system, but officials involved in the investigation believe the end might be in sight.
More than three months ago, Lost River Cave staff discovered a gasoline odor emitting from the cave. Boat tours were suspended for about six weeks during the subsequent investigation by local officials and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, which declared an emergency April 29 to expedite funding and hire a contractor to examine storage tanks at nine nearby gas stations.
Kevin Strohmeier, response coordinator for the Environmental Response Branch of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, has led the investigation since mid-April. On April 24, he began utilizing a portable chemical detector, called a multiRAE, to record the levels of volatile organic compounds – gases or vapors emitted from products or processes – at Lost River Cave, a multi-family home and a sinkhole off Nashville Road.
At the Lost River Cave entrance, the VOC levels have remained very low or weren’t detectable throughout the investigation. On April 24, at the highest point, total VOCs reached 6.4 parts per million. The levels returned to a non-detect (0 ppm) by April 26. Subsequent readings continued to capture non-detects.
“Big picture, for the Lost River Cave folks, this exposure has been very minimal” and never exceeded safety standards, Strohmeier said.
At a multi-residential home on Lost Circle, there were detectable odors and VOCs on April 10. The levels became non-detects after a nearby limestone crevice was ventilated.
“The exposure was taken care of within the first few days (of discovering an odor),” Strohmeier said.
At a slim sinkhole near Nashville Road, the levels were much higher. Strohmeier recorded elevated VOC levels from April 24-28, including a 118 ppm reading April 25. Afterward, the levels remained at or below 10 ppm with the exception of a few spikes that seemed to correlate with heavy rains.
“When we get a rainfall, we get a spike in the readings,” Strohmeier said. “We’re getting a rise in the water subterranean streams, and its flushing gasoline that’s been lodged in rocks and crevices. As it moves, it volatilizes in the air. That’s why we’re getting the detections.”
At 10 a.m. June 22, the reading spiked to 200 ppm. Within 24 hours of the spike, the readings dropped to 20 ppm and have since returned back to below 10 ppm.
Though the source of the spill remains unsolved, Strohmeier believes the actual remnants of the gasoline spill will soon be washed away.
“I think our endpoint is when we get significant rains and we don’t get a reading above (something like) 20 ppm,” Strohmeier said. “That’s when I’ll feel like we’ve flushed out the residual gasoline from our systems.”
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