Furious residents in Canberra’s west have accused Caltex of “downplaying” a petrol spill at one of its service stations, and say they will seek legal advice over fears it has contaminated the soil beneath their homes.

Caltex confirmed a leak was discovered in an underground petrol tank at its Holt station in February, which has now contaminated soil and reached groundwater.

Engineering firm WSP Australia has been brought in to investigate whether the petrol has spread to homes and businesses, but said there was no health risk to the community.

However, residents at a nearby unit block said they were worried their homes had been devalued and accused Caltex of dodging their questions since the spill.

“We are going to seek some legal advice to determine what our rights are as residents and owners of the complex,” unit owner Kerry Hall said.

“If people are aware there has been a petrol leak and it’s impacting our water and impacting our land, that will affect the value of our home and we won’t be able to sell.”

They said the results of testing under their homes was yet to be revealed by the company.

“This is our home, it’s where we live and it’s our major asset, and I feel we’ve been left in the dark,” Ms Hall said.

Kerry looks seriously into the camera.
Holt resident Kerry Hall said she was disappointed with the communication with Caltex after the petrol leak. (ABC News: Selby Stewart)

Caltex ‘extremely disappointed’

Caltex sent a statement to residents last night telling them they would have access to the findings when the investigation ends.

“Caltex is extremely disappointed that this has happened,” the statement said.

“We are undertaking the remediation work as thoroughly and expediently as possible and will continue to update the EPA as work progresses.

“As soon as the works are complete, a report will be submitted to the EPA and outcomes will be made available to occupants and owners of the neighbouring properties.” 

Work has been underway at the site since July, when residents were first notified of the leak, with tests now being carried out more than 40 metres away from the ruptured tank.

A large drill has been used to bore beneath the earth and testing for fuel vapours has been carried out at nearby homes and businesses.

“Results to date have shown that there are no unacceptable health risks at the site or to occupants of the neighbouring commercial and residential properties,” the statement said.

“Buildings in the surrounding area will not need to be demolished.”  

Leesa points, looking serious.
Holt resident Leesa Mountford points to an area behind her unit where engineers have been drilling. (ABC News: Selby Stewart)

Legal action looms

But residents accused the company of being “vague” in its communication, and said the units’ body corporate had unanimously voted to seek legal advice.

“We’ve had little communication since they told us of the leak in July,” unit owner Leesa Mountford said.

“They are now testing beyond our homes in the park, which means they’re clearly getting high readings here.

“There’s a nursing home across the road, there’s young kids that play on those playing fields. What impact will it have on them?”

In a statement, the EPA said Caltex had so far complied with its obligations in response to the fuel leak.

They said the likelihood of any off-site impacts was low, but did not clarify if off-site impacts referred to contamination.

Caltex taped off
Large parts of the Caltex have been taped off as engineers investigate the spill.(ABC News: Selby Stewart)

Search for answers

Ms Mountford said residents deserved answers.

“It’s a big organisation and it’s doing what it has to do and forgetting about the people it impacts,” she said.

“We just want to know the results of the testing that has been done beneath our homes.

“But I don’t think Caltex appreciates the little person.”

Extracted in full from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-18/canberra-residents-accuse-caltex-of-downplaying-petrol-spill/12675408