Oil Leak Detected at Tussey Mountain High School

By:  Alivia Melius (grade 12)

Talks of an oil leak potentially headed to the Juniata River are “heating up” at Tussey Mountain High School. On the early evening of Nov. 4,  Dr. John Snyder alerted the Saxton Volunteer Fire Company of the scent of fuel near his dentist’s office. Firefighters rushed to the scene of a creek that appeared to be collecting some sort of fuel near Snyder’s office in Saxton, Pennsylvania.

Prior to the 2006 and 2007 school year, Tussey Mountain High School utilized oil-fired boilers for heat. Even after the building was fully renovated and switched to a more eco-friendly alternative, the old pipe lines remained. Currently, the heating oil is only used to warm the water in the institution and fuel the school’s generator. During the renovation, however, a line was left plugged but still holding oil.

“That oil line got a hole in it, and then the oil went into a drain,” Maintenance Supervisor Jim Mitchell said, “and it ended up going down into the creek.”

“Around 2:00 PM that day, we were dispatched for a fuel investigation at Dr. Snyder’s.” volunteer fireman senior Camden Rininger said. “I looked at my phone; and since [we didn’t have enough people to crew up,] I went down to the office to go help assist. Come to find the creek was red and full of heating oil, and we began the process of tracking it down to find where it was.”

PIG containers and caution cones are used to mark the site of an oil spill clean up at Tussey Mountain High School. Photo By: Amelia Dibert

Mitchell, who was called to the scene around 4:00 PM that day, assisted firefighters in locating the origin of the leak. They were eventually led to the boiler room in the basement of the high school. After finding the source of the leak, they were able to isolate it and begin the process for cleanup. Clear Creek Company, an environmental emergency company out of Altoona, Pennsylvania,  was contacted and continues to provide, place and replace PIG mats, which are hydrophobic mats that collect oil and repel water, to clear the waterway affected. An estimated 200 gallons of heating oil was lost.

“We managed to stop it before it made it to the [Juniata] river,” Rininger said.

“The fire company did a wonderful job,” Mitchell said. “They were on it and stayed on it, and they helped with putting the mats in the boiler room, even down to the creek. They had PIG mats of their own and were using stuff they had until the environmental company got here.” 

“DEP has been here, and they’re satisfied with what we are doing,” Mitchell said. “The fish commission has also been here, and they’re satisfied with what we are doing to clean the oil up. None of it has reached the Raystown branch of the Juniata River.”  DEP commended the district for its quick action once the leak was found.  

Most students were unaware of the leak. “I never heard about it, except from one of our teachers, and I usually know most of the things that go on throughout Tussey,” sophomore Caleb Sopher said. “[When I drive to school in the morning] I see them exchanging things and putting them into big trucks. I just thought it was trash from the football games, but I was eventually told it wasn’t.”  Crews worked around the clock on the night of the discovery to make sure the interior school environment was safe for students the next day. Large fans were brought in to ventilate the building throughout the night. There were no interruptions to the school schedule due to this incident.

“It’s an unfortunate thing that happened as a result of the refit,” Interim Superintendent Jerry Shoemake said during an interview. “Certainly we had no indication that this was even a concern. When it happened we reacted as quickly as we possibly could, and we will continue to react to make everyone whole,” Shoemake said. 

The cleanup process is expected to take approximately two more weeks to complete. The total cost for the operation has not been made public at this time.

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