The oil "splash" incident of Oct. 28 was caused by a failed vacuum pump at the refinery, according to DPNR. A pressure-release valve opened on a vacuum-distillation unit, spraying oil out over the estates.
There have been several similar oil-spray events over the years.
In 2006, water mixed with crude oil triggered a pressure-release valve, spraying out more than 100 gallons of oil in a fine mist. (See "Big Cleanup Ahead for Hovensa Following Oil Cloud Spurt.")
The contamination from that incident was confined within the boundaries of Hovensa.
In 2005, water mixed with hot oil also resulted in an airborne oily mist.
(See "Workers Evacuated as Hovensa Tank Spews Oily Steam Cloud.") Roads were closed briefly and monitoring stations set up, but there was no report of contamination outside the plant.
In 2002, spray from a pressure-release valve led to warnings to Clifton Hill and Profit residents not to use their cistern water, but subsequent tests contracted by Hovensa showed no effect on area water supplies. (See "DPNR: DON'T USE WATER IN AREAS NEAR REFINERY.")
The spray last fall is the only such incident reported to have contaminated houses, cars and cisterns. Hovensa responded by hiring cleanup contractors, potable-water distributors and testing companies. DPNR's Environmental Protection division monitored the response and the condition of exposed water.
DPNR wants a stronger government reaction to incidents of this type, Mathes said.
"There is clearly more work to be done in establishing a more comprehensive response to these incidents," DPNR Commissioner Robert Mathes said in an agency statement on the cleanup. "DPNR has regulatory authority over air emissions, but has no authority or expertise in medical issues, homeowners' cisterns, animas and vegetation. The need is obvious, and the potential for more incidents is ever-present, and I will work closely with VITEMA (the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency), Hovensa and other first responders through activation of the LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee) in making this happen."
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