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DEC investigating ethanol leak at Salmon River

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FORT COVINGTON - Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials may be taking action against the Salmon River Central School District due to ethanol leaking from its geothermal well field.

DEC spokesman David Winschell said Wednesday that “an investigation is underway” and there is “a possible enforcement action,” but he did not comment further.

Salmon River Business Executive Natascha Jock said that the 160 wells, which are grouped into 16 “loops” of 10, were pressure tested over April break and one on the east side of the school on the soccer field failed. She said 65 cubic feet of soil were removed and the loop was deactivated and remains that way. The remaining 15 are in order. The wells go about 450 feet underground and harness energy to heat the school.

Ms. Jock said the DEC is analyzing the soil, and the district will following their recommendation for remediation.

“The important thing for everyone to know is the DEC is aware and they direct the action we take,” according to Ms. Jock, who added that the district is still providing bottled drinking water.

The district’s water was discovered to be contaminated with acetone in February, which is a by-product of ethanol as it breaks down. Ethanol is used as the system’s coolant. The district’s Board of Education voted in March to hire March Associates for a $600,000 project to remediate soil underneath the school’s 500 wing and also replace the carbon filtration system. Superintendent of Schools Jane Collins said at the time that wells on surrounding properties were found to be safe.

The geothermal wells were approved by voters in 2009 as part of phase one of the capital project and were installed by Aquifer Testing and Drilling, Inc., of Troy. The company’s vice president would not answer questions beyond confirming that he has been contacted about the leaks and oversaw the wells’ installation.

“If there’s a potential for a leak, we can’t talk about it right now,” Aquifer Testing and Drilling Vice President Joe Miranda said, refusing to specify why he couldn’t comment.

In addition to the well leak, Ms. Jock said the school’s elementary nurse’s station had to be temporarily relocated on Monday because a heating unit valve had gone bad and leaked ethanol. She said “a mop bucket of fluid” escaped and created fumes that prompted the move.

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