Most of tainted kerosene now accounted for

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

December 27, 2013

It’s been a tough week for officials at Mount Airy Oil Co. since a discovery that thousands of gallons of kerosene containing gasoline was sold by a store it operates, but they hope the potential for injury or loss of life has been averted.

Horace P. Bondurant, the president of Mount Airy Oil Co., said Thursday that all but 58 gallons of the volatile mixture had been accounted for after a massive community-notification effort.

Mount Airy Oil Co. learned last Friday morning of the problem, centered at the Shell convenience store near Food Lion in Westwood Shopping Center at 1225 W. Lebanon St.

It stemmed from a delivery there earlier in the month by a tanker driver employed by a trucking company. He mistakenly pumped 1,542 gallons of gasoline into a kerosene tank containing 2,813 gallons, despite tanks at the business being color-coded

This resulted in a kerosene-gasoline mixture totaling about 4,350 gallons. “The driver just messed up,” said Bondurant, who added Thursday that he did not know if the driver — who had been on the job for only a few months — was still employed.

The company found out about the problem when a man who lives on Franklin Road reported that his heater had exploded after he used the tainted fuel. That triggered a widespread notification effort last Friday that included reverse 911 calls to 7,800 homes within a five-mile radius of the store alerting residents to the dangerous kerosene mixture sold there from Dec. 8-19.

Mount Airy Oil Co. also established a recorded message on its telephone line for affected consumers to call for instructions.

A flurry of contacts was received initially and continued into this week.

“On Sunday, we got two or three more calls,” Bondurant said, “and then on Monday we got a couple more.” On Tuesday, another call came from Lambsburg, Va.

To mitigate the situation, Mount Airy Oil Co. has been replacing the contaminated kerosene with the pure variety, and replacing customers’ heating units damaged by the gasoline-kerosene mix.

“I think so far we have replaced 10 or 11 heaters,” Bondurant said, along with supplying the new kerosene.

That has amounted to a price tag of about $10,000, which also includes damages caused at the Franklin Road residence and at a mobile home on Parker Road, where tainted kerosene is suspected in a blaze that damaged drapes and carpeting.

“It’s a small drop in the bucket compared to what it could have been,” Bondurant said of the loss. The gas-kerosene combination can cause a dangerous explosion or fire if used in any heater, but it is thought that some of the nearly 60 gallons still unaccounted for could have been burned without incident.

The Mount Airy Oil Co. official reiterated Thursday that the main concern throughout the ordeal has been public safety.

“I would say if we don’t hear anything in another week, maybe we’re home free.”

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or tjoyce@civitas