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Company volunteers to clean up contaminants

September 28, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

WILLIAMSPORT - A Washington County firm is on the verge of getting a clean bill of environmental health for voluntarily cleaning up a contaminated area, officials said.

Jim Metz, chief of Maryland's voluntary cleanup/brownsfields division, said he doesn't expect any problems that would prevent Engineered Polymer Solutions Inc. from receiving a state certificate of completion from the Voluntary Cleanup Program.

The program streamlines the cleanup approval process and limits the liability for property owners and program participants, officials said.

Metz said he is waiting for the Williamsport area firm to respond to some minor comments and concerns.

Engineered Polymer Solutions, of 16414 Industrial Lane, produces resin to make paint, said Adam Gildner, an environmental engineer for Valspar Corp. in Minneapolis.

Engineered Polymer is a division of Valspar, which bought the local resin facility of Rust-Oleum Corp. in the Interstate Industrial Park in May 1997.

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One month later, Engineered Polymer applied to the state voluntary cleanup program and started cleaning up a settling pit, the contents of which had leaked into the ground, according to state and company officials.

The pit was used to settle solids out of the water used in the resin production process, Gildner said.

While the leak wasn't hazardous it did contain zylenes, a commonly produced and used organic chemical that in higher concentrations could have been hazardous, said Al Hannum, Valspar's environmental consultant.

If the firm hadn't volunteered, the state wouldn't have made the firm clean up the area since contaminant levels weren't high, Metz said.

By participating in the voluntary program, Valspar limited future liability and makes the land more attractive should company officials decide to sell it in the future, said Hannum, who is with the environmental consulting firm of Arcadis, Geraghty & Miller in Millersville, Md.

The cement pit was 5 feet wide, 9 feet long and about 2.5 feet deep, Gildner said. The firm had the pit removed and excavated the soil in an area 18 feet wide, 37 feet long and ranging in depth from 1.5 feet to 8 feet, depending on rock underground and whether the material had contaminated the soil, he said.

It cost the firm more than $120,000 to clean up the area, he said.

Gildner said the state's voluntary cleanup program is a good one, encouraging firms to investigate their properties for potential hazards and clean them up.

In the past it was a lengthy, tedious, expensive process that required a lot of paperwork and sampling from a firm seeking an environmental OK from the state, Gildner said.

The program meshes environmental and business concerns, allowing companies to operate profitably without uncertainty about environmental regulations, Gildner said.

"It helps you do the right thing," he said.

Company officials wouldn't have chosen to expand its Washington County resin division had they not had confidence in the state's voluntary program, he said.

Since buying the resin division, Engineered Polymer has gone from 6 to 19 local employees and will have about 30 when the expansion is done by the end of March, said Plant Manager Gary Hutchison.

The multi-million-dollar expansion is expected to triple resin production, Hutchison said. Under the expansion the firm will go from one operational reactor, which produces resin, to four reactors, he said.

Company officials discovered the leak when they decided to reduce air emissions by replacing the open air process pit with a sealed above-ground tank so employees wouldn't have to breathe the emissions, which smelled like wet paint, Gildner said.

By replacing the pit with a sealed operation, the firm reduced emissions into the air by 75 to 85 percent, he said.

The 60 cubic yards of soil removed from around the pit in February was recycled into aggregate, which could be used to make concrete, Gildner said.

The firm paid the state $6,000 to participate in the cleanup program, but will be reimbursed for the unused amount, which was $3,991 as of April 30, Metz said.

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