A new study suggests that drops of fuel spilled at gas stations — which occur frequently with fill-ups — could cumulatively be causing long-term environmental damage to soil and groundwater in residential areas in close proximity to the stations.
Few studies have considered the potential environmental impact of routine gasoline spills and instead have focused on problems associated with large-scale leaks. Researchers with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, publishing online September 19 in the Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, developed a mathematical model and conducted experiments suggesting these small spills may be a larger issue than previously thought.
“Gas station owners have worked very hard to prevent gasoline from leaking out of underground storage tanks,” says study leader Dr. Markus Hilpert, a senior scientist in the department of environmental health sciences in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “But our research shows we should also be paying attention to the small spills that routinely occur when you refill your vehicle’s tank.”
Over the lifespan of a gas station, Dr. Hilpert says, concrete pads underneath the pumps can accumulate significant amounts of gasoline, which can eventually penetrate the concrete and escape into underlying soil and groundwater, potentially impacting the health of those who use wells as a water source. Conservatively, the researchers estimate, roughly 1,500 liters of gasoline are spilled at a typical gas station each decade.