Sixteen cars stalled Monday morning after motorists bought gas at the Gleneagles Chevron station on Polo Club Boulevard in Lexington, where water had leaked into the station's storage tank.
About 300 gallons of water entered the 20,000-gallon tank during the weekend after several heavy rains, said Rodney Polly, response team coordinator with the state Department for Environmental Protection who was at the scene off Man o' War Blvd just outside I-75 Monday morning.
Polly said the station received a delivery of gas Thursday, and a lid on the storage tank was left open.
A hose is supposed to be attached to the underground tank so, as gasoline enters the tank, vapors can be emitted back to the tanker truck and not into the atmosphere, Polly said.
In this case, the vapor lid was propped open with a rock instead of having a hose attached. When the delivery driver finished filling the tank, he forgot to remove the rock, Polly said.
"With all the rain this weekend, it just leaked into the tank," Polly said.
Station owner Mohani Dumre said he notified his supplier Monday morning when cars began to stall. At the same time, he said, a high-water alarm beeper on the tank was sounding inside the station.
Sherelle A. Roberts, spokeswoman for the Lexington police department, said 16 cars stalled, and all had to be towed. Kentucky Petroleum Supply in Winchester delivers gas to the station. George Stamper, manager of Kentucky Petroleum Supply, said its insurance carrier had been notified. "I'm sure the customers will be taken care of," Stamper said.
Don Washbish, owner of Ferrell's Car Care on Manchester Street, said one of the vehicles — a 2000 Ford Explorer — that got some of the watery gas was in his shop Monday afternoon. He was going to pull the fuel filter, drain the gas tank and flush the system. "Then fill it back up with gas and see what happens," he said.
That will cost about $250. He said damage from water in the gas usually is not serious.
However, if the fuel pump on the Explorer is wiped out, that's going to cost more than $450. If the fuel injectors have to be replaced — an Explorer has eight — it will cost $743.
"So the damage and costs will vary from one vehicle to the next," Washbish said.
Polly said the first "high-water warning" — a beeping noise, flashing red light and a message on the monitor inside the gas station — occurred at 10 p.m. Saturday. A "high-water alarm" sounded at 5:16 p.m. Sunday.
At the first warning, station personnel "should have, at a minimum, called KPS to come check it out," Polly said.
But Dumre said the monitoring system is sensitive to so many factors, "it beeps two or three times a day. We just turn it off."
The system sounds an alarm "for lots of different things like low fuel, product delivery needed," Polly said. "It makes the same beeping sound for those normal kind of warnings" as it does for more serious situations.
"The trouble is, they don't train their people at the store to understand what kind of alarm is flashing" and what the alarm means, he said. "Or to know enough to call somebody to see what it means."
It's a common failing, Polly said.
The monitoring system is "very sophisticated," he said. But there's often such a high turnover of employees, people are not always well-trained. "If the people there at the store don't know how to use the system, it doesn't do you as much good," he said.