3 firms lash back at EPA Total of 5 accused of faulty data about toxic chemicals

September 25, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Like beauty, "data integrity" lies in the eye of the beholder.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accused five Baltimore-area companies of providing faulty data about hazardous chemicals at their plants.

Three of the companies say the accusations are unfair because the EPA's own recordkeeping is flawed.

The dispute began last week when the EPA leveled charges about a lack of "data integrity," saying the five companies had not filed timely and accurate reports on the chemicals they use and release.

To show that the agency takes such lapses seriously, the EPA proposed fines totaling $171,942.

Three companies say they filed all of the required data -- though maybe a bit late in a few cases -- and can't understand why the government is after them. The other two businesses are checking their records.

A total of 28 companies in the Middle Atlantic region face EPA charges as part of a nationwide crackdown on faulty reporting of accidental leaks, releases and storage of hazardous chemicals.

Here are the five local companies, the allegations against them and the proposed penalties:

* Turnbull Enterprises Inc., a manufacturer of seating for Navy ships; failing to report releases of toluene from its Southwest Baltimore plant; $50,488.

* G. Heileman Brewing Co., producer of Colt 45 malt liquor and ZTC National Bohemian beer; failing to alert emergency agencies promptly of an ammonia leak totaling 8,000 pounds at its Halethorpe brewery last December; $33,250.

* Esskay Inc.; violating regulations on use and disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at its meatpacking plant at 3800 E. Baltimore St. before the plant closed in May; $33,000.

* H. G. Parks Inc.; failing to report two years ago that it stored ammonia and other hazardous chemicals at its sausage plant in Northwest Baltimore; $27,900.

* Parker Metal Decorating Co. Inc., maker of tin plate for food cans and other containers; failing to report releases of two toxic chemicals from its South Baltimore plant; $27,304.

"EPA cannot achieve its mission to protect human health and the environment unless companies . . . supply complete and accurate data," Steven A. Herman, assistant administrator for enforcement in the EPA's regional office in Philadelphia, said in a news release last week.

Later, the agency was accused of mangling the facts.

"They got it all screwed up," said Jerry Alvey, plant engineer for Heileman's brewery.

He said that all necessary agencies were contacted within hours of the discovery of the ammonia leak.

At Parker Metal, which was accused by the EPA of not filing reports for 1989 through 1991 on routine releases of the toxic chemicals xylene and methyl isobutyl ketone, President Winslow Parker Jr. said, "I'm astounded. This is just out of the blue."

He said that the company did file a report for 1989 and that reports for the next two years were delayed and filed this year because the EPA's requirements changed.

The company did not learn of the change until February, Mr. Parker said.

"When they told us what the revised criteria were, we promptly filed our reports."

The third company to dispute the charges was H. G. Parks.

An executive there said the company is being penalized -- two years after the fact -- for missing a reporting deadline by a few weeks.

Mark Sheubrooks, vice president for finance, said that Parks notified local fire and emergency officials about its stockpile of 6,000 pounds of ammonia, 142,000 pounds of nitrogen and 100,00 pounds of carbon dioxide a few weeks after two EPA representatives visited the plant in March 1991.

"There's a difference between reporting and fully reporting," said Carrie Dietzel, an EPA spokeswoman.

"Missing deadlines or only notifying one or two of the authorities does not constitute full reporting," Ms. Dietzel said.

As for the charge that the EPA failed to get the facts straight before moving against the companies, she said, "Our attorneys generally do their homework before they go ahead and file these complaints."

The five businesses have 20 days to answer the charges and can ask for a hearing or negotiate the size of the penalty.

William B. Alexander, president of Turnbull Enterprises, said his company is checking to see whether it met the EPA's reporting requirements.

"I'm certainly glad the government is working for us," he said of the agency. "I'd hate to think they're working against us."

Esskay officials did not respond when asked about their reaction to the EPA accusations.

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