Almost every time you visit the gas station, it happens. In that split second between the pump shutting off and you placing the nozzle back in its seat, a few valuable drops of gasoline fall onto the ground next to your vehicle.
"No big deal," we think to ourselves, but when we consider all of the other people coming to the pump, dribbling a couple of drops, and driving away thinking it's really not a big deal, it turns out to be much more than we suspect. This is a slow motion oil spill that is occurring at every gas station in America and it's one that everybody could proactively help bring to an end.
Markus Hilpert, senior scientist and professor at John Hopkins University, and his team conducted a study which estimated that there is around 400 gallons of fuel spills at the average American gas station each decade. A lot of this gas is making its way underneath the pavement and accumulating at concrete pads below the pumps —eventually contaminating soil and watersheds underground.
This could become a serious issue, as gasoline contains known carcinogens, or cancer causing substances.
Spilled droplets amount to "large cumulative spills" with "relatively long life times" according to Hilpert in a VICE Motherboard article. He said, "This can become a problem if clean rainwater is allowed to flow over the pavement because the water can pick up the pollutants and move them into uncontaminated environments."
The John Hopkins team used the mathematical model above to estimate how much of the gas is able to penetrate the pavement. The model found that smaller droplets were absorbed more than large ones, which were less evaporated.
The next time you need to fill up, remember to jostle that nozzle, and do your part to help end an oil spill that you as a citizen have control over.