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Tannery 'senstive' to river

September 16, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

WILLIAMSPORT - Officials from Garden State Tanning, a recent target of environmental groups, say the company is doing everything possible to minimize its impact on the Potomac River.

"We, as a company, are very sensitive to the fact that it is the Potomac River," said Glenn D. Thornley, vice president for operations at the Clear Spring Road plant.

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Making leather is a water-intensive operation. Up to 750,000 gallons a day is drawn from an underground spring and, if necessary, purchased from the City of Hagerstown, he said.

All the water used in the leather tanning process is treated before it goes into the river, he said.

In 1992, the company built a new waste-water treatment plant that drastically cut the amount of ammonia being released. The treatment plant converts highly toxic ammonia into less harmful nitrates, he said.

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"What's going out is at least as clean as the river," he said.

The company just spent $750,000 to install a cover on the treatment plant that should maintain the plant's efficiency during cold weather, said Chris E. Ehret, quality assurance, environmental and safety director.

Despite the environmentally friendly improvements, the company was ordered to pay $126,000 in fines last month by the Maryland Department of Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"We wouldn't have given them a complaint if we thought they were doing a good job," said EPA spokeswoman Ruth Podems.

The government alleges that Garden State Tanning violated the Clean Water Act.

Garden State is setting up a settlement conference with the EPA and has appealed the fines with the MDE, said Podems and MDE spokesman Quentin Banks. Dates have not been set for either proceeding.

"We were very surprised at what the government did," said Thornley, who declined to talk about the details while the company discusses the issues with the government.

Garden State took another hit last week from the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, which singled out the company for being the largest single polluter of the Potomac River in the last five years.

"They have a legitimate public interest and we take no issue with that," Thornley said of MaryPIRG's report.

But the company believes the information used needs to be put into context.

MaryPIRG said Garden State Tanning legally released 313,767 pounds of chemicals into the river from 1992 to 1996.

Nearly half of those chemicals were discharged before the new treatment plant went online in 1992, Thornley said.

Garden State Tanning, with about 1,000 workers, is one of the 10 largest employers in Washington County.

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