The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 25, 2014

EPA says Ashtabula plant at one time posed a public health hazard

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Exposure to hazardous chemicals and radioactive material from the Ashtabula Iron and Metal (AIM) site at one time posed a public health hazard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday.

The federal agency completed a clean-up on April 11 at the now-bankrupt recycling and demolition company at 1015 W. 30th St., and 2710 West Ave.

The U.S. EPA removed more than 1,000 containers of hazardous chemicals, including acids, flammable liquids and various wastes, such as radium, asbestos, transformers, metal-containing waste, and cylinders, said Francisco Arcaute, spokesman for the U.S. EPA in Chicago.

“The U.S. EPA completed a removal action to address immediate threats to human health and the environment at the AIM site,” he said. “The U.S. EPA conducts removal actions when immediate action is necessary.”

Hazardous substances were found in all six on-site buildings and outdoors, including a roll-off box containing hazardous waste and a radium coin. An EPA radiation expert properly disposed of the radium coin at a Department of Defense disposal facility.

“All of the wastes were sampled, characterized, consolidated, packaged for safe transportation and then properly disposed of off-site,” Arcaute said. “All immediate threats were removed.”

The U.S. EPA also found a layer of soil contaminated with waste oil about two feet below the surface at the clay boundary. A former employee said oily metal shavings piles were stored across the entire site for many years, Arcaute said.

“It is possible that oil from these piles may have migrated into the ground at the site,” he said. “Oil-contaminated soil is not an immediate threat to human health or the environment because it is not exposed to the surface and does not threaten the local community’s drinking water.”

As for the health and safety of Ashtabula residents, Arcaute said, “The U.S. EPA has no knowledge of the how and when the contaminants were released, nor, do we have information on safety practices of the former company.

“When EPA got involved with the site the business had already shut down, but the site was unsecured, so a primary hazard was people accessing the site, coming in contact with the chemicals or releasing them to the environment.”

The U.S. EPA has referred this site back to the Ohio EPA to evaluate the extent of the problem, and determine if more clean up is necessary, Arcaute said.

The Ohio EPA removed 120,000 scrap tires from the site in January and then moved out to allow the federal agency to do its work, an Ohio EPA official said this week.

City Manager Jim Timonere said both AIM cleaned up a lot and the EPA have done a lot of work.

They have not compiled the clean-up costs., Arcaute said.

“EPA enforcement process involves pursuing all responsible parties to recover the amount spent on this clean up,” he said. “This includes the site owners and operators.”

Hercules LLC is the corporation that owns the land, and AIM Recycling and Demolition was the operator of the business at the time it closed. Brett Muckle of Chagrin Falls was the manager of AIM Recycling and Demolition and head of day-to day operations, according to city officials.

The Ohio EPA first became aware of the tires and hazardous waste from a search warrant and report received April 27, 2012 from the Municipal Court in which Ashtabula Fire Chief Ron Pristera told the court he had “good reason to believe” the property at 1015 W. 30th St. had conditions which “are or may become hazardous to public health, safety or welfare.”

Additional information about the property came from a copy of Pristera’s April 30, 2012 report to the court. It was in that report that Pristera said the inspectors carried a radiological meter with them after a contractor previously alluded to the possibility of “low-level nuclear waste” on the site.

The EPA immediately investigated the site and inspectors discovered ground spills, pallets, railroad ties, lumber and thousands of scrap tires.

Consequently, the owners/operators of AIM received citations from the EPA, demanding they take immediate action to clean up the site, secure the site and submit a closure plan, or face fines of up to $10,000 a day.