EPA says jet fuel leak from Charleston Air Force Base no danger to residents

EPA spokesman Stephen Ball assures reporters Friday the fuel leak near the Charleston Air Force Base poses no danger to nearby residents as a tanker pumps fuel out of a drainage ditch behind him.

A jet-fuel spill at Charleston Air Force Base that leaked into a drainage ditch serving nearby neighborhoods poses no danger to residents, according to an EPA spokesman.

About 1,200 gallons of jet fuel were spilled into a storm-drainage ditch that goes through neighborhoods off Great Oak Circle and North Palm View Circle, which are near Jerry Zucker Middle School on Dorchester Road, according to a news release Joint Base Charleston sent out Friday afternoon.

Cleanup is expected to last through the weekend.

The majority of the spill is being contained in the small, slow-moving storm-water canal that runs between the base and the neighborhoods across Dorchester Road.

Crews led by Moran Environmental Recovery and including multiple agencies are using booms in three locations to contain the spill and fuel-absorbent pads to soak it up.

A small amount of fuel traveled as far as the Ashley River, but officials said they did not believe it poses a threat.

"I do not believe it will leak into the river or any water supply, but we are monitoring the situation," Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Stephen Ball said near one of the cleanup sites.

The fuel could be smelled on Dorchester Road, and the odor was strong near the ditch, although no one in the cleanup crew was wearing a mask. Ball said he has been taking air samples and detected no danger.

The spill was discovered about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Joint Base Charleston said. The leak was blamed on a failed gasket on the bottom of a control valve for an underground fuel hydrant system on the flight line. The cause of the failure was being investigated.

First responders stopped the leak at the source Wednesday night, but severe weather disrupted the cleanup efforts and channeled fuel into a nearby storm drainage ditch, according to base officials.

Due to the rain and darkness, crews couldn't begin to assess the drainage off base until the following day. Once officials determined fuel had spilled into the ditch, they coordinated with environmental agencies and sent out the news release.

The material is called Jet Fuel A. Although Jet Fuel A is not a carcinogen and poses no immediate health risks, prolonged exposure may cause irritation to the eyes and skin, and it is extremely harmful if swallowed, according to DHEC and EPA officials. As a precautionary measure residents and members of the community are encouraged to stay clear of the drainage ditch until cleanup efforts are complete.

Dave Munday can be reached at 937-5553.