Parachute Creek spill: Day 43


Click here for full map:  04/15/13 — Most recent benzene concentrations in groundwater and isoconcentration map

Toxic chemical benzene discovered in Parachute Creek

In a press release, Garfield County Chief Communications Officer Renelle Lott says despite the relatively low readings, the presence of benzene is “of great concern.” The Parachute Town Administrator, Parachute Public Works Department, the Battlement Mesa Metro District and the Town of DeBeque Public Works Department have all been notified of the situation.

However, the Town of Parachute does not draw its drinking water from Parachute Creek, so Lott says it is not at risk from this contamination.

Garfield County will hold a public meeting so the community can ask questions of the regulatory agencies overseeing the leak. The time and place of the meeting has not been released.

Garfield County Press Release – April 18, 2013


While it seemed like everything was blowing up and raining down from Boston to Texas this week, I was calculating when the benzene would show up in Parachute Creek. It rained all day Monday, and then it snowed about 10 inches on Wednesday. And let’s face it in a week when bad news had to take a number and wait to be served, I figured this would be the week. But I knew it would take a few days for test results. I held off on my update all day Thursday because it made sense the test results might come back from water samples taken on Tuesday and Wednesday, based on the release of past surface water test results. But the COGCC updates don’t usually come out until after 6:00 p.m. So I waited. And sure enough the test results came back showing benzene in Parachute Creek.

I know, right? I really do need to get a life.

Read COGCC update – April 18, 2013

Williams statement at Answers for Parachute

Williams says in part:  “According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzene is highly biodegradable and evaporates quickly into the atmosphere on the surface of water.”

Look, I’m not angry about the benzene in the creek. I expected that. I’m angry about statements like this. Williams efforts to minimize the impacts of the Parachute Creek spill are sort of like the arsonist saying wildfires are beneficial to the forest ecosystem. That doesn’t make it okay to set the forest on fire.

For the facts about benzene I turned to the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry).

Williams says benzene is “highly biodegradable.”

The ATSDR says [emphasis added], “Benzene in water and soil breaks down more slowly. Benzene is slightly soluble in water and can pass through the soil into underground water.”

Williams says benzene “evaporates quickly into the atmosphere.”

The ATSDR says, “Benzene in the air can also be deposited on the ground by rain or snow.”

Benzene levels from 1.1 ppb up to 2.8 ppb were detected in multiple locations along Parachute Creek, up to 1900 feet downstream from the spill source investigation site.  The EPA and CDPHE health standard for allowable levels of benzene in drinking water is 5 ppb. Let’s dig a little deeper into that 5 ppb standard.

How did they come up with that number?

The ATSDR says:

Regulations and recommendations can be expressed as “not-to-exceed” levels, that is, levels of a toxic substance in air, water, soil, or food that do not exceed a critical value that is usually based on levels that affect animals; they are then adjusted to levels that will help protect humans. Sometimes these not-to-exceed levels differ among federal organizations because they used different exposure times (an 8-hour workday or a 24-hour day), different animal studies, or other factors.

Is there any safe level of benzene?

The ATSDR says:

EPA has set 5 ppb as the maximum permissible level of benzene in drinking water. EPA has set a goal of 0 ppb for benzene in drinking water and in water such as rivers and lakes because benzene can cause leukemia. EPA estimates that 10 ppb benzene in drinking water that is consumed regularly or exposure to 0.4 ppb in air over a lifetime could cause a risk of one additional cancer case for every 100,000 exposed persons. EPA recommends 200 ppb as the maximum permissible level of benzene in water for short-term exposures (10 days) for children …

We do not know what human health effects might occur after long-term exposure to food and water contaminated with benzene. In animals, exposure to food or water contaminated with benzene can damage the blood and the immune system and can cause cancer.

Acceptable benzene levels are based on animal studies! How much benzene is too much for you? Benzene is a known carcinogen. While 5 ppb is considered “permissible,” the answer is clear. There is no safe level of benzene.

According to Silt Utilities Director Jack Castle, municipalities only test for benzene and methane every three years. Not daily, not monthly, not quarterly – not even every year. Tests for benzene and methane only occur more frequently if a problem is found.

And they haven’t even addressed whether other BTEXs are present besides benzene. BTEX compounds ( benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), are commonly found in contaminated soil and groundwater near petroleum and natural gas production sites, gas stations, and other areas with pipelines, underground storage tanks, or above-ground storage tanks containing gasoline or other petroleum-related products.


Bob Arrington released this statement:

“I was saying at the earlier 4-4-13 EAB meeting, it was a matter of time that the ground water could meet the right circumstance for the water table and creek to become equal and the hydrocarbons would get in the creek; it has happened so now contamination is in the water table AND creek.

“Williams is still down playing, saying evaporation will remove most, that benzene is slightly soluble. But it is the whole BTEX group and gasoline that makes up the mix and these are not evaporating well in the ground water of the water table. With all the recent moisture, the ground water is rising and water is permeating down on this contamination allowing it to come up higher and increasing soluble amounts with more vigorous mixing.

“The Suncor seep in Sand Creek and then the South Platte illustrates that the best hopes and evaporation does not keep this junk from moving in strength — it is only a matter of time this stuff gets downstream unless they stop it by removal. The influent stream flow kept it out of the creek for a while, but the combination of more moisture and water table getting higher in relation to the creek has the contamination making the transition.

Most Recent Benzene Concentrations in Groundwater 4-13-2013

“Take a look at the map [above] – 1400 to 1800 feet would put the benzene coming out just about at the big bend by the road I pointed to on the map at EAB. It looks like the creek squeezed it out.”


Be sure to catch up on coverage of the Parachute Creek spill with our friends at KDNK News.

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5 Comments on “Parachute Creek spill: Day 43”

  1. Leslie Robinson Says:

    Wouldn’t have the air monitors at the nearby plant sounded alarm if all this benzene was released into the air?

  2. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    That is if they have air monitors, and if the air monitors are working, and if the air monitors have alarms, and if the air monitors detect benzene — that’s a lot of IFs …

  3. Fiona Lloyd Says:

    Have they tested for BTex compounds? If not, why not?
    What are the proposed solutions to this problem?
    Where the heck are our BoCC – why have we not heard anything from our dear leaders?
    Who is safeguarding the interests of We the People?
    When will Williams be fined? And how much?

  4. Carl Mc Williams Says:


    As the readers of the Post Independent letters to the editor know; I consider Garfield County Commissioners Mike Samson, Tom Jankovsky and John Martin to be in the tank for the oil & gas extraction industry and hiding under their desks in regards to the Parachute Creek/Williams Energy benzene spill and the ensuing environmental disaster.

    Accordingly, I have been informed by a very reliable source that certain “powerful leaders in the Republican Party of Garfield County” are fed up with my letters to the editor wherein I publicly describe Samson, Martin and Jankovsky as incompetent and nothing more than de facto O&G Industry paid lobbyists.

    Then on Friday April 19, We the People of Garfield County were informed by a John Colson article that benzene has in fact migrated into Parachute Creek and this benzene was sourced from contaminated groundwater. This announcement came fully forty-two (42) days after the Williams hydrocarbon spill story was first published in the Post Independent. Think about it: Forty-two days of Samson, Jankovsky and Martin doing absolutely nothing to assist the property owners and cattle ranchers along Parachute Creek to protect their health and their properties from the Williams induced cancer-causing-benzene.

    Therefore, to my critics in the Republican Party of Garfield County, ponder the following: Once the hydrocarbon spill became public knowledge; at the very least Samson, Martin and Jankovsky could have allocated Garfield County Oil & Gas Mitigation fund moneys and commissioned an independent laboratory analysis of the domestic water wells of the property owners and cattle ranchers along Parachute Creek whose properties are in the path of the Williams/benzene migrating plume. This independent laboratory analysis would have at least given these property owners a “base-line” chemical assessment of their well water before the Williams/benzene release migrated into the groundwater and Parachute Creek. Then eventually when the Williams benzene does pollute their domestic wells, these constituents of Samson, Jankovsky and Martin would have independent scientific evidence to use in civil court to seek monetary damages from Williams for polluting their wells and drinking water and thus destroying their property values!

    Obviously though, these “three paid industry lobbyists” would never consider such an undertaking. Or stated another way; that kind of foresight requires leadership skills and personal honor of which Samson, Martin and Jankovsky are without.

    Carl Mc Williams

  5. Beth Strudley Says:

    I’d like to know the real benzene numbers, not those provided by the COGCC, or the gas company or the testing companies that they retained when they swooped into the valley.

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