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600 gallons of fluid allegedly spilled at airport: Station operations director denies fluid was toxic

Submitted Photo Fluid is shown in this Monday photo emailed to The Press by an anonymous source spilled on the runway at Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport south of Dickinson.

The North Dakota Department of Health is looking into a possible spill of a potentially toxic fluid at Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport earlier this month.

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A “concerned citizen” relayed information last week about an incident where approximately 600 gallons of airplane deicing fluid was allegedly released on the Dickinson airport’s runway, according to a release sent out Friday by Kris Roberts of the department’s Environmental Health Section.

The department release stated that the spill is likely to have occurred sometime on Feb. 10. Airport manager Matthew Remynse said Friday that he had been in contact with the Department of Health.

“From what I understand, a line broke on the deicing truck and it started spilling out,” Remynse said. “I don’t have an actual number on how much was spilled. Talking with the health department (Friday) morning, the airline that had the spill is the one who has to report it.”

Remynse said the spill came from fluid that was on a GAT Airline Ground Support truck. Based out of Alabama, GAT is a company that contracts for aviation support services at airports, including the airport.

Stating that a cap was placed over the airport’s storm water drain once the spill was discovered, Remynse added that some of the fluid likely escape into the drainage system. A typical deicing routine for a small handful of planes would require close to 200 gallons of glycol-based deicing fluid, of which there are multiple types used within the industry, he added

“The airport monitors the runoff,” Remynse said. “We’ve been monitoring that and we file a report every year with the North Dakota Department of Health. That’s all within our storm water permit. Having the deice truck just start dumping glycol is out of the ordinary, but we did cap the drain so not all of it went down and we swept it back into the snow so it would evaporate.”

When reached Friday afternoon, Roberts said that — under the North Dakota Century Code — a spill such as the one that allegedly occurred at the Dickinson airport last week would need to be reported within 24 hours. No information had been offered to his department as of Friday other than what was provided by the concerned citizen, he said.

“I’ve been in contact with the airport manager,” Roberts said. “I’m assuming he will be telling the airline people there that it’s not kosher not to report (a spill) so they get their act together.”

Roberts said a penalty could come down from his department regarding the spill, but he wouldn’t divulge what such a penalty might consist of and who it would be levied against.

“We don’t talk about that,” Roberts said. “There are always extenuating circumstances, so we don’t talk about what penalty might or might come down. We could do a monetary penalty, we could do a work-type penalty, we could do a consent agreement for different things, but I’ll just say it could be penalized and leave it at that.”

A malfunction of a hose caused a spill of deicing fluid, said Carl Schouw, GAT executive director of station operations. He called it a “small spill” and said it “didn’t consist of anything hazardous.”

Roberts — who specializes in the area of water quality — said that he is familiar with two different types of fluids commonly used for the deicing of airplanes.

“One is propylene glycol, one is ethylene glycol,” Roberts said. “Propylene glycol is a food-safe antifreeze. Ethylene glycol is not. Ethylene glycol is the one that everybody warns to not let pets get around — it is toxic to animals and a lot of other things.”

Runoff from the storm drain flows into a field near the airport, Remynse said. Schouw seemed to downplay the incident, stating that “the same chemical is sprayed at every airport,” though he said he could not identify which type of glycol was allegedly released Monday.

“For anyone to say that this was a toxic spill, they’re wrong,” Schouw said. “The fluid we use at the Dickinson airport is approved in every state of the U.S. for deicing purposes in the airport environment. If it made it to the drainpipe, that’s an airport issue. We’ve meet asking Matt (Remynse) to cover the drain for months.”

Roberts said Friday that the plan was to have a department official visit the airport on Monday to look into the spill further.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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