An impatient maintenance worker at Brooklyn Park's Kanasco Ltd. pharmaceutical plant accidentally triggered a chemical spill June 23 whenhe dumped a 1,000-gallon waste water tank into a mop sink, a companyofficial said.
"He was in a hurry to go home and made a mistake,"said Mario Ruggeri, Kanasco's quality assurance manager. "This employee has been severely reprimanded: he's lost two weeks of pay and hasbeen put on probation."
Before the Arundel Gardens Improvement Association Thursday night, Ruggeri offered the first public explanation of the spill outside his Robinwood Road plant, which manufactures penicillin.
Kanasco has yet to make a formal explanation to public officials. And, at Thursday's meeting, officials as well as residents weren't buying what Ruggeri had to say.
"Some of the stories I heard tonight I don't believe," said Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park. "Too many things have happened too often."
The spill into the public sewer -- the second at Kanasco this year -- is under investigation by the state Environmental Crimes Unit, the state Department of the Environment and thecounty Department of Utilities.
A utility crew reported finding an offensive smelling, white, milky liquid flowing from Kanasco about 8:15 p.m. June 23. Laboratory tests show the liquid contained traces of methylene chloride, acetone, and isopropyl alcohol.
Acetone, common to nail polish, and isopropyl alcohol are common household agents. Methylene chloride, an industrial solvent, causes severe respiratory problems if breathed in sufficient quantity.
Dr. Katherine Farrell, community health director with the Health Department, said methylene chloride can cause headaches similar to carbon monoxide poisoning. Studies also show long-term exposure may cause cancer in laboratory animals, she said.
Ruggeri said the level of methylene chloride released was small and non-hazardous. But, he added, "We don't deny the water was smelly."
Ruggeri said the waste water was stored in atank next to a janitor's closet, awaiting laboratory tests. He said the company was investigating a technique to purify the water. Although employees had been told not to bother the tank, the maintenance worker drained the tank while cleaning up the plant, he said.
Ratherthan following proper procedure by pumping the waste into an outdoorholding tank, the employee used the nearby mop sink, Ruggeri said. The employee, who has worked at the plant about eight years, apparently did not know the sink was connected to the public sewer, he said.
The Department of Utilities has barred Kanasco from using the sewerexcept for employee toilets since a 1988 spill of methylene chloride, which sent 10 Ferndale families to the hospital.
Art O'Connell, acting chief of hazardous waste enforcement, said their investigationhas been slowed because Kanasco's "records are very convoluted. Theydon't keep records the way you'd expect."
O'Connell said investigators are attempting to account for every bit of chemical waste at the plant.
The Air Management Administration also is investigating repeated complaints about foul chemical odors in neighborhood around Kanasco. Residents said the odors are similar to rotten eggs, bleach and bug spray and have caused headaches, dizziness and nausea.
"Hey, we're not a chocolate factory," Ruggeri said. "We're a chemical plant. Sure there's going to be an occasional whiff."