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Posted at 12:07 PM ET, 02/ 9/2011

Va homes evacuated for puzzling methane

By Allison Klein
Allison Klein

A funny smell on Monday night has led to the evacuation of several Stafford County homes and a team of geologists puzzling over alarmingly high levels of explosive methane gas in the soil of a new housing development.

Seven homes in the 300-home Woodstream community are affected by the gas, which has concentrations as high as 60 percent in some areas, according to Stafford County Fire Chief Rob Brown. Methane is explosive when it is as low as 5 percent, he said.

Brown said the homes were evacuated because utility companies shut off water and natural gas once they learned the extent of the methane saturation.

"Those are things you don't take chances with," said Brown.

Investigators with the county fire department, the Environmental Protection Agency and a private geotechnical firm have not found any methane in the air. But the source of the explosive gas in the soil is still a mystery.

The team of investigators has looked back as far as 1937 examining photos and records of the site to figure out if it was ever a landfill or a dumping site.

"We're coming up empty," Brown said.

Brown said his people are working round the clock to get residents back in their homes.
Fire officials believe the rest of the families in the development are safe.

By Allison Klein  | February 9, 2011; 12:07 PM ET
Categories:  Allison Klein, Virginia  
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