How to neutralize gasoline
December 11, 2012 8:50 AM   Subscribe

How do I best get rid of some gasoline that got into where I really don't want it?

Someone (not sure who) dumped gasoline into my house's storm drain. There's now a reservoir of it floating at the top of my sump well, which is in my garage. This is filling both the garage and part of the house with the smell of gasoline fumes.

What's the best way for me to remove the gasoline to stop the smell? Bonus points if the solution helps mitigate the obvious environmental train wreck.
posted by Citrus to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Use a siphon and put it into a container. But if the gasoline is still accumulating then you should call the fire department. You don't indicate if it is continuing to come into the storm drain.
posted by JayRwv at 9:01 AM on December 11, 2012

It was a one-time thing. Someone expected the gas to go into the wastewater, and I'm sure some of it did. They didn't realize that some of it would be stuck floating at the top.

So, what's a good way to siphon off gas that's floating at the top of a small well?
posted by Citrus at 9:08 AM on December 11, 2012

Not siphon - it's at the bottom of a well, siphoning doesn't work. Instead pick up a cheap transfer pump like this one from a hardware, auto parts or marine supply store. Siphon it into an empty waste-oil container or gas can, and drop it off where you'd normally take hazardous household waste (Ask a local autoparts store or mechanic - they'll either know, or take care of it for you.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:21 AM on December 11, 2012

You can buy a siphon pump with attached plastic hose at a hardware store or automotive supplies store. I'd have thought that if you fixed a flotation device of some sort (block of styrofoam) to it so that a length of the pipe projects below it, then tie the end of the pipe off and fix a weight to it and then, lastly, cut a hole in the pipe just below the styrofoam float, that would make it fairly easy to pump out the top layer of the liquid in the sump.

Would gas dissolve styrofoam? Might want to check on that first.
posted by yoink at 9:23 AM on December 11, 2012

Nasty method, but you could use a large sponge. I used to have to do that to remove water from vault boxes. soak up with sponge, squeeze into bucket, repeat.

Or a simple siphon, but with gasoline you have to be careful what you are using to create the vacuum - i.e. sucking with your mouth is dangerous, and anything mechanical/electric you should be very cautious.

What about some sort of make shift wine thief?
posted by Big_B at 9:23 AM on December 11, 2012

Errr, pump it into an empty container, I meant.

Siphoning relies on the difference in air pressure to push the liquid to the lower container... if the gas is in a hole in the ground, siphoning isn't going to work.

Would gas dissolve styrofoam?

posted by Slap*Happy at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2012

This is not an unheard of problem, it's just not one most office-type folks deal with.

When I did HAZMAT training (which was admittedly over a decade ago), we had magic kitty litter that you could dump on top of water and it would absorb all of the petroleum distillates off the top of it and could then be collect for disposal. Obviously, this was not actual kitty litter. I don't remember the name of the product but have found oil-absorbing pads that look like they'd do the same thing.

However, you don't need a pack of 100 of them. What I would do is contact my fire department (who deal with this sort of thing a lot) and ask them what they'd recommend you use to absorb the gasoline. For bonus points, ask who you should contact about disposing of the used absorbent. Best case scenario, they'll just give you the absorbent material you need.

If that doesn't work out, I'd look for a local HAZMAT company (ask the fire department for a recommendation) and see if I can find one that will give out some free advice. If that doesn't work, I'd call tech support at Gempler's and ask what they would recommend. [Disclaimer: I've never personally used their tech support and can't vouch for the quality.]

As for disposal of the contaminated absorbent material, the non-obvious magic phrase is "hazardous materials transfer station." Once you track down a local one, they'll be able to either dispose of the material or point you in the right direction.
posted by stet at 10:49 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Siphoning relies on the difference in air pressure to push the liquid to the lower container

I've always thought of it more as gravity and pressure. Gravity pushing the liquid out one end creating a vacuum sucking it up the other. But you're right, in this scenario a siphon won't work. But I was thinking just the one half of the siphon - sucking it into a hose and dumping, hence the wine thief idea, maybe using a length of hose.

In the environmental sampling world we use bailers to get water (and product, including gasoline) from monitoring wells.

Something else I thought of, is this a municipal storm drain that has somehow backed up into your house sump? You might be able to get city/county services to come help you out with this if it is a significant amount of gasoline.
posted by Big_B at 10:50 AM on December 11, 2012

stet: "As for disposal of the contaminated absorbent material, the non-obvious magic phrase is "hazardous materials transfer station." Once you track down a local one, they'll be able to either dispose of the material or point you in the right direction."

They are also typically called "household hazardous waste." Out here in Cali you can pull up to one and drop off all sorts of nasty stuff with no questions asked.
posted by Big_B at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2012

I don't think it's that significant an amount. Certainly not enough to warrant official involvement. Besides, I don't want my downstairs neighbor or my landlord to get in any trouble for what some other person did.
posted by Citrus at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2012

If there's a lot, take off what you can with a plastic siphon pump. It's true you can't siphon to a higher elevation, but these little $3 pumps have a bulb you can work manually.

Leave the rest exposed to air, and it will be gone soon enough. Gasoline is very volatile.

yoink: FYI, yes gasoline dissolves styrofoam, making napalm. So great advice there...
posted by teatime at 9:03 PM on December 11, 2012

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