Employees at a Fast Break convenience store in Evans, Colo., may face criminal charges after dumping at least 400 gallons of diesel fuel into a stormwater drain that led directly to the South Platte River, the Greeley Tribune in Colorado reported.
Customers saw the employees emptying the fuel into the drain and called authorities Sunday afternoon, said Margie Martinez, spokeswoman for the Weld County Sheriff’s Office.
The newspaper reported that the Evans Fire Department responded so quickly to the store that firefighters may have stopped the fuel from reaching the river.
"Fortunately, customers called right away," Martinez told the newspaper. "We do not believe the fuel reached the river."
The Fast Break was closed at the time, and Martinez said she didn’t know when it would open again.
The newspaper reported that the employees apparently thought there was water in the bottom of the underground diesel tank and were pumping it out directly into the storm drain that leads to the river, Martinez said. Officers are investigating the incident, but dumping fuel or other hazardous chemicals directly into a storm drain is illegal, she said.
Fire crews trapped the fuel in the pipes that led to the river and at the river itself. The Environmental Protection Agency was notified, and the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environmental and Colorado Division of Wildlife were inspecting the river.
It may be difficult to tell just how much fuel, if any, reached the river because the South Platte was moving faster than normal after the heavy rains over the last few days, the newspaper reported.
If diesel reached the river, it could hurt the wildlife that relies on the river for habitat as well as farmers who use it for irrigation, Martinez said.
"The diesel is easier to contain because it floats to the top," she said. "But it really could have been bad."
The fuel won’t affect the city’s water supply because the stormwater drain led directly to the river and not into Evans’ water pipes, Martinez said.