The company that refuels planes at Logan International Airport accused of spilling hundreds of gallons of jet fuel into the water between the airport and East Boston by a group of New England clammers, has been fined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to take adequate precaution to contain oil spills.
Swissport/BOS Fueling Inc., who operates an oil storage facility and fueling operation at Logan, will pay a $90,000 penalty. In October 2011 the EPA was prepared to fine Swissport up to $177,500 for failing to demonstrate that they are able to respond and react to an emergency oil spill as required by federal clean water laws.
According to a complaint filed by the EPA’s New England office dated September 2011, the EPA asserted that Swissport had not properly prepared for possible oil spills at the Logan facility in violation of federal oil pollution prevention regulations issued under the Clean Water Act.
These Facility Response Plan (FRP) regulations require certain facilities, such as the one at Logan, to have a response plan for containing and cleaning up an oil release.
The EPA’s action stemmed from a May 2011 unannounced exercise at the facility carried out by EPA, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP) and the U.S. Coast Guard. The objective of this exercise – a simulated oil spill – was to determine whether a facility can successfully respond to an oil release. As a result of the exercise, EPA determined that Swissport was unable to properly implement a FRP and its personnel were not adequately trained, resulting in an “unsuccessful” overall rating for the exercise.
The EPA said since it filed its action, Swissport has worked cooperatively with the agency as well as the USCG and Mass DEP to correct the deficiencies noted during the exercise.
Swissport Fueling is responsible for managing more than one million gallons of fuel oil storage. Because storm drains at the Logan facility empty into Boston Harbor and Boston Inner Harbor, any oil spills could have substantial consequences, greatly impacting the local environmental, economy and commerce.
Given the facility’s large storage capacity and its proximity to fish and wildlife and sensitive areas, it is required to have a Facility Response Plan (FRP) as well as a Spill Prevention Control & Countermeasure (SPCC) plan.
In the event of a spill, the FRP regulations require the companies to have emergency response procedures in place, adequate employee training and appropriate spill response equipment, as well as a contingency plan for containing and cleaning up a release.
While EPA’s action against Swissport is not based on an actual oil release but on the unsuccessful May 2011 unannounced exercise, other facilities should be aware that EPA will continue to pay unannounced visits to conduct simulated spill exercises at facilities throughout New England.
In August 2011, Swissport agreed to test the sediment in the clam beds for petrochemicals contamination.
Whether or not this was an admission by the company that an unusually large amount of jet fuel was spilled into the ocean causing one of the largest die off of soft shell clams in recent history is unclear because Swissport, Massport and other officials will not release data pertaining to the spill.
Swissport and Massport have maintained that no jet fuel made it beyond the North Outfall booms that are in position to contain large fuel spills. However, a map provided to the East Boston Times in May by clammer John Denehey that shows where the clams died off and where the clams remained healthy would convince most sensible minded people that there has to be a correlation between the dead clams in the North Outfall area and the October 2010 jet fuel spill by Swissport.
“There is definitely a cause and effect here,” said Denehy. “There is no way this many clams just upped and died for no reason.”
In his last 30 years of clamming on the clam-flats that surround Logan International Airport, Denehy had never seen clams die off like they did in the final months of 2010.
“Usually I would get about 1,000 pounds of clams a day,” Denehy told the East Boston Times two weeks ago. “When I went to the flats this past November there was zero clams that were alive.”
The dead clams that Denehy collected across from Constitution Beach in the area the clammers call the Wood Island Flats were sent off to be tested by the state’s Marine Fisheries Department and results came back that the clams died of neoplasia or clam cancer that killed off the majority of the clams. This cancer, in most cases, is caused by hydrocarbons found in jet fuel.
Studies have shown that soft shell clams are more prone to develop clam cancer when environmental toxins are introduced into their habitat.
A study by the Environmental Research Lab for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency back in 2006 showed that of 18 species of marine invertebrates that fell victim to 11 oil spills around the U.S. only soft shell clams showed to develop neoplasia.
Swissport was also unsure how much fuel was spilled according to the records obtained by the East Boston Times in May that showed that 463 gallons of a fuel/water mixture, 18 cubic yards of oily absorbents and 4 cubic yards of oily sludge was quietly cleaned up by Clean Harbor and sent to its facility in Braintree.
Usually when fuel is spilled the fueler reports the spill to his supervisor who reports it to the company in charge of fueling the plane. The company then reports the exact amount of fuel spilled to Massport who then reports it to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Affairs.
However, since June 2011, when the Times began investigating the spill, neither Swissport nor Massport will comment on the amount of fuel spilled with one insider saying it ‘sounds like a cover-up’.
Records obtained by the Times show that in October 2010, a month before Denehy found the dead clams, the DEP was notified of a jet fuel spill by Massport and Clean Harbor–a private agency charged with cleaning up environmental spills at Logan.
Sources at the airport have said that the spill was caused when a Swissport employee refueling an aircraft overrode the safety mechanism called the ‘dead man’ on the refueling hose, went back into the fueling truck and fell asleep. By the time he awoke hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of jet fuel had been spilled and later discharged into the harbor.
In December 2011 Twenty clammers affected by the massive clam die-off l that they say was caused by the oil spill at Logan were preparing to file a lawsuit in federal court against the Swissport and Massport.
The group of New England clammers, through their lawyer, have drafted an Oil Pollution Act Letter and sent it to Massport and Swissport.