DEP finds violations at East Fork
Following a visit to the site of the former Howes Leather tanneryﾗnow East Fork Industrial Parkﾗnear Durbin this August, the West Virginia Department of Environmentalﾠﾠﾠ ﾠProtection sent two violation notices to the Pocahontas County Commission late last week.
The Notices of Violation, signed by DEP inspector Jack Fleshman, were dated August 1, but faxed copies were not received by the County Clerkﾒs office until November 1.
ﾓNOVs are written while the inspectors are on a site visit, but occasionally not sent until later, depending on any additional investigation that might be necessary,ﾔ DEP spokesperson Jessica Greathouseﾠsaid of the delay.
ﾓIn this case, DEP inspectors were in contact with EPA to discuss the PCB-containing transformers onsite,ﾔ she explained.
PCBsﾗor polychlorinated biphenylsﾗwere used in electrical transformers as a fire retardant, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Tests on animals show that PCBs can harm reproduction and growth, and can cause skin lesions and tumors, the EPA states.
If PCB fluid is partially burnedﾗas it may be in a transformer fireﾗit produces byproducts that are much more toxic than the PCBs themselves. Those byproducts have caused cancer, anemia and other blood problems in laboratory animals, according to the EPA.
During the site visit, DEP inspectors found several PCB-containing transformers being stored on pallets in an open building on the property. Pocahontas Development Authority President Frank Proud told inspectors the transformers were spares owned by the county commission.
To date, the EPA has not issued any citations or notices regarding the transformers at the site, according to agency records.
At the time of their visit in August, DEP inspectors did not indicate whether they thought the transformers were leaking or posed a hazard.
The notices cite the county for the slow pace of the clean up of ﾓindustrial sludge,ﾔ which contains byproducts and chemicals from the tanning process. While the county has been working on remediating the site for more than 10 years, one of last weekﾒs notices said the project was supposed to have been completed in one-to-two years.
County commissioners have repeatedly blamed rainy weather for the slow progress made on the clean up.
Under the countyﾒs cleanup agreement with the DEP, backhoes remove the sludge from the old tannery vats and place it on a concrete pad to dry. Once dry, the piles of sludge are then transferred to a nearby holding area lined with plastic, similar to a landfill.
Compounding the problem of rain soaking the piles of sludge, rainwater also fills the tannery vats, creating ponds that must be pumped empty before the sludge can be removed.
Pumping that water apparently led to the second violation notice.
ﾓ[The] pump and hose show clear evidence that the pond was dewatered to a ditch leading directly to Johnﾒs Run,ﾔ wrote Fleshman. ﾓThis is an unpermitted discharge and violates West Virginia Code.ﾔ
Johnﾒs Run passes through the site and empties into the Greenbrier River, adjacent to the former tannery. The county is only permitted to pump the water onto a nearby field, several hundred feet from Johnﾒs Run, Fleshman said in August.
The notices instruct the commission to immediately stop discharging the contaminated water to ﾓwaters of the state.ﾔ
The DEP has not conducted any analysis of the water to see what contaminants it may be picking up from the sludge, said Greathouse.
County Commission President Joel Callison said the county has made progress in the cleanup since Augustﾒs inspection. Water from the pond is now being applied to the field specified by the DEP rather than Johnﾒs Run, said the commissioner.
ﾓWeﾒre going to continue with the cleanup, and weﾒre going to take care what they told us to,ﾔ Callison said. ﾓWe have certainly been trying to get this cleaned up,ﾠ and weﾒll eventually get it done.ﾔ
Callison said he did not recall such a strict time limit being placed on the cleanup order by the DEP. Time tables notwithstanding, Callison said he felt the condition of theﾠ site and water quality around the tannery was better than when the county took on the project in 1995.
Once the sludge is cleaned up, the holding area will be topped with another layer of heavy plastic and topsoil and seeded with grass, DEP Executive Assistant Dennis Stottlemeyer said in August.
The DEP will require the county to maintain monitoring of wells on the site to keep an eye on groundwater quality.
ﾓWhat weﾒre trying to do is remove the sources (of contamination) and put them in one place, where theyﾒre no longer a source,ﾔ Stottlemeyer explained. ﾓThen you can come back and get a much better idea of the groundwater quality without those sources.ﾔ
Discussion of the notices was placed on the commissionﾒs agenda for its November 8 meeting.