EPA to target plant

Leaking acids, toxic chemicals found at Brooklyn Park facility

October 13, 2007|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun Reporter

Environmental Protection Agency officials said yesterday they will crack down on the owner of a Brooklyn Park plant where 50,000 gallons of hazardous chemicals are stored, after acids and toxic chemicals were found leaking from their tanks into the ground.

The action against Consolidated Pharmaceuticals Inc., expected as early as next week, comes on the heels of a $100,000 fine levied by the the state for multiple hazardous-waste violations and a letter Monday from Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold that said the site poses the risk of a "potentially catastrophic fire."

The facility, a warehouse and tank-storage area that were once part of a penicillin-manufacturing operation, is within a mile of three schools and a short walk from homes and a neighborhood playground.

"I think the hazardous conditions of the site require immediate attention," Leopold said. "When my fire chief, for whom I have great respect, advises me this is a serious problem, I take action."

Greg Ham, on-scene coordinator with the EPA's hazardous cleanup division, said he has been concerned about the site since May, when Maryland Department of the Environment officials notified him of problems there.

On a visit, Ham said, he found a scrubber that was leaking acid, corroded pipes on the tanks and a lab with hundreds of bottles of chemical waste. In the warehouse, Ham said, pallets were stacked high with chemicals and equipment. The roof had holes in it, which workers tried to patch with tarps.

"It was clearly a fire hazard. It was a safety hazard," Ham said.

Who is responsible for the property was unclear yesterday. Consolidated sold most of its assets to Florida-based GeoPharma Inc. in 2005. A GeoPharma subsidiary, American Antibiotics LLC, operates out of a brick building next to the old warehouse.

Representatives from GeoPharma and American Antibiotics could not be reached for comment yesterday. Though Consolidated is supposed to have a groundskeeper at the warehouse, its parking lot was empty yesterday. None of the tanks or drums was visible from the road, and no one was at the site.

Anne Arundel County has long been aware of problems on the site, which date back about 20 years, when the state and county battled the former owners of the plant, Kanasco Ltd., for unauthorized dumping into storm drains and public sewers.

A 1988 spill of hazardous liquid sent 10 families to the hospital. Three years later, the county severed the plant's connection to sewer lines after a chemical spill.

That spill and the unlawful storage of hazardous wastes led a grand jury to indict Kanasco in September 1992.

"Fumes and vapors started coming up through people's toilets. People had to be taken to Shock Trauma," said Phillip C. Jimeno, a former state senator who lives a quarter-mile from the plant. "This sort of place shouldn't be allowed in a residential area. It's not safe."

In the late 1990s, after Consolidated took over, neighbors occasionally complained about the stench coming from the site.

"I just don't know how they allowed this to continue," said Brooklyn Park resident Carl C. Brooks. "But I'm happy they're trying to do something about it now."

But instead of residents, this time it was the Fire Department's hazardous-materials experts who were sounding the alarm. The department was called to the site in May to assist the MDE and EPA, which were investigating the company for violations.

Fire officials found chemical tanks filled with fuel oil, hydrochloric acid and solvents. The fire alarm system was out of service, and the sprinkler system would be inadequate in the event of a fire or explosion. Many materials weren't labeled, leaving fire officials in the dark about the potential hazards within, said Fire Lt. Shawn Jones.

"When we don't know what the chemicals are, we can't assess the risk," Jones said.

The Maryland Department of Environment issued an administrative complaint against Consolidated in July, after investigators found multiple violations for improperly labeling, storing and dating chemicals. MDE fined the company the maximum penalty, said Horacio Tablada, director of MDE's waste management administration.

Tablada said yesterday that the company has appealed, and a hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 12.

Tablada said his agency and the EPA asked Anne Arundel fire officials to write the EPA saying the company was violating the county's fire code, in hopes of giving the agencies ammunition to force Consolidated to address the issue.

"Without the fire threat, then this is just a regular case with no imminent threat to public health, other than the hazardous violations," Tablada said. "The real threat here is the fire."

Ham said the company has gotten rid of the lab waste, but 50,000 gallons of hazardous substances remain and the fire-suppression system is still not up to par. He said the company, which was hoping to sell the chemicals, asked earlier this year for 30 days to fix the problems, then asked for 120 days. Ham said the company is "well beyond" both of these periods, and has not done enough.

Ham is working on an "action memo" that would require the company to clean up the site with EPA oversight. If it doesn't comply, he said, the EPA can hire contractors to go in and clean it up.

Ham said he hopes Leopold's letter will speed up the enforcement process.

"The more government levels that are supporting the action, the better it is," Ham said. "Obviously, we are all in agreement that something needs to be done at this facility."

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Ruma Kumar contributed to this article.

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