LYNN — More than 100 gallons of gasoline have seeped into downtown Lynn’s stormwater system, and it’s not clear where it came from.
Firefighters evacuated two buildings on Munroe Street and Central Avenue due to the strong odor late Sunday night, according to Lynn Fire Capt. Joseph Zukas. The move came after several reports of a gas smell in the area over the weekend.
Speedway, the gas station located at Washington and Liberty streets, was ordered shut down at 2:30 a.m. Monday by the Fire Department after a strong odor of gasoline and strong readings of gas were detected.
Fire Chief Stephen Archer said the station was “shut down for safety’s sake” and said permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is required to reopen the station.
Speedway spokeswoman Stefanie Griffith did not return calls seeking comment.
Archer said Speedway contracted with a testing company Monday morning and checked for any leakage from the station’s three underground tanks. Vehicles from the department and underground tank inspection company Crompco were parked near the station.
“(Speedway is) saying they are not losing product and determined that it was not coming from their tanks,” according to Archer, who said he was satisfied the source of the odor is not the gas station.
“We may never be able to find the source of this leak,” he said.
Edmund Coletta, a DEP spokesman, said the department will work with environmental contractors hired by Speedway to completely rule out the gas station as the source of the gas.
Coletta said measures taken on Monday, including removing covers from utility holes in streets, greatly reduced vapor levels.
“Our questions is how did it get into the sewer line,” Coletta said.
Lynn Water and Sewer Commission Director Daniel O’Neill said gas was detected in a sanitary sewer but “it did not appear anything got into the drainage system.”
With the leak, fire officials feared the gasoline would make its way into the ocean, causing environmental problems with fish and other wildlife.
Calls about a gas odor in the downtown area started coming into the Fire Department on Saturday, according to Zukas.
By Sunday, the odor prompted the evacuation of Tacos Lupita restaurant on Munroe Street but no residential buildings were evacuated. Odor detection tests conducted Sunday afternoon triggered “strong readings,” Archer said, adding the reading levels never got to the point that would necessitate larger-scale evacuations.
A state hazmat team responded on Sunday and residents were warned to stay out of the downtown.
Employees at Taqueria Dona Julia, a Central Avenue restaurant, noticed the gas odor when they opened for business Sunday at 9 a.m. Waitress Jennifer Rojas was relieved Monday morning to hear testing levels for gasoline were dropping.
“We were scared. I’m still a little worried,” she said.
On Monday morning, fire crews responded to a report of gasoline odor on Munroe Street. Another caller reported smelling gas at the sewer treatment plant off the Lynnway. The Lynn Community Health Center at 20 Central Ave. was also evacuated temporarily on Monday.
By 11 a.m., test readings showed a diminished presence of gasoline, according to Archer.
Mayor Thomas M. McGee said city officials are meeting with DEP representatives on Tuesday morning to continue to try to identify a cause of the leak and what the city needs to do to address it. He expects that work to be ongoing.
“It was a very good response with the fire and police, working with DEP who has been with us as of (Sunday) night and went through extensive work today to identify what was going on and realized it was not the Speedway,” McGee said. “At this point, there’s no safety concerns.”