Burning off with Gasoline - Knowledgebase Question

Lancaster, PA
Avatar for garfieldbl
Question by garfieldbl
April 28, 1999
My boyfriend was burning off an overgrown, viny mess of a hillside to clear it, and used gasoline to help get it started in places. We cleared off the debris and pulled out all the briars and worked the dirt up. I want to plant strawberries there but when I was digging the holes I noticed a strong smell of gas in places, mostly where a really big briar had been. How long before the ground would be safe to plant edibles? Is there anything we can do now? Otherwise the soil is wonderful.

Answer from NGA
April 28, 1999
I can't say for sure how the gasoline will affect your plants and/or when it will be gone. Gasoline is very volatile--it goes from the liquid to gaseous state readily. My guess is that some of the liquid gasoline penetrated the soil, and when you turn the soil over you expose the gasoline to the air, and it evaporates, leading to the smell. My only suggestion is to continue to work the soil wherever you smell gasoline, so you continue to expose all the saturated areas to the air. Eventually, the smell should go away. However, I am not aware of just what components of gasoline--the stuff left behind after if evaporates--are toxic and/or will affect your plants. I suggest you add a lot of compost and organic matter to the soil before planting your strawberries, because this will encourage beneficial soil life and may help decontaminate the soil. You might want to call your state's Dept. of Natural Resources and ask for their recommendations. If the soil is really saturated, you may want to remove it, dispose of it as a toxic material, and bring in new topsoil. The agency should be able to guide you.

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