UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
REGION III- OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS AND GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
1650 Arch Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103-2029
Phone - 215/814-5100 Fax - 215/814-5102
EPA Environmental News
April 21, 1998
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EPA Responds to Ombudsman's Review On Incineration at the Drake Chemical Superfund Site
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 office offers the following information to explain the agency=s position and obligations arising from the April 17, 1998 National Ombudsman=s Review of the Drake Chemical Superfund Site in Lock Haven, Pa. The following information is provided to satisfy requests from the media and the public for EPA=s response to the findings of fact in the ombudsman=s review. Within a few weeks, the agency will develop a point-by-point official response which will be made available to the public. In the meantime, the EPA would like to offer the following comments:
- The ombudsman's role in the Superfund hazardous waste cleanup program is important but limited. His job is to raise concerns that may exist among interested parties regarding the program and to make recommendations to the EPA. The ombudsman raises these concerns only after all other avenues of review have been pursued -- including public input, peer reviews, administrative reviews and court challenges. All these avenues already have been pursued regarding the Drake Chemical Superfund Site. EPA Region 3 will review and respond to the ombudsman=s recommendations, and implement those that have merit.
- The ombudsman=s review does not raise any new concerns. The review repackages concerns that have been raised previously in the public, administrative and legal review processes. The ombudsman has already developed two previous draft reviews, and the EPA has already responded to the concerns in these reviews. However, the agency=s responses to these concerns were not included in the final report.
- The EPA=s conclusion is that incineration is the safest, most effective way to clean the soil at the Drake site. This conclusion is based on 16 years of study to determine the best possible way to address the heavily contaminated soils.
- This conclusion is based on sound science and close quality control. The EPA selected incineration as a cleanup remedy because it is the best method available to handle a varied mix of hazardous contaminants. It is not technically feasible to separate out the many hazardous chemicals that were produced at the former chemical plant and treat each one differently. Therefore, incineration is the best universal solution to this complex hazardous waste site.
- The agency's risk assessment concluded that the incinerator could be operated safely. Fifteen independent peer reviewers evaluated the risk assessment for the use of incineration. Their conclusion was that the risk assessment was credible and valid. In addition, there have been several public meetings, administrative reviews and court challenges. (See legal history below.)
- In addition to the risk assessment, the EPA conducted several trial burns at the incinerator and tested the stack emissions to make sure that they met safety standards. So far, 15 percent of the contaminated soil has already been burned, and the stack emissions prove that no unsafe levels of contaminants are coming out of the stacks.
- The EPA plans to burn the remaining 85 percent of contaminated soils once the incinerator is restarted in early May. The incinerator is currently not operating because the inside is being relined with a concrete-like material. The relining is being done because some of the bricks in the original lining began to crumble. Regular maintenance is required on all incinerators and a great deal of maintenance time is built into any cleanup schedule. Because of the high temperatures inside the incinerator, it is standard operating procedure for the lining to need repair and/or replacement.
- When the incinerator restarts, it will have a new wet scrubber system operating for steam from the treated soil. While the existing system is adequate, the new scrubber system is an additional safety feature. This system is designed to capture the fugitive emissions (or dust). While the dust poses no risk to the public, as it is generated from soil that has already been incinerated, the incinerator=s operating permit requires that dust be kept to a minimum. The new wet scrubber will accomplish this.
- Two years ago, a citizen=s group opposing incineration at Drake, AArrest the Incinerator Remediation@ (AIR), sued the EPA to stop the operation of the incinerator. The trial court dismissed the suit. AIR appealed the decision and the court of appeals agreed with the trial court.
- AIR appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on January 12, 1998, the Supreme Court denied AIR=s petition to review the two lower court rulings.
- On March 10, 1998, AIR sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers= contractor in Pennsylvania state court in Clinton County, alleging that operating the incinerator was a violation of Pennsylvania state nuisance law. The matter was sent to federal court. EPA joined the case.
- On March 16 and 17, 1998, the federal trial court heard two days of witnesses from AIR and EPA. The court found that the incinerator was in compliance with Pennsylvania law and, on March 19, dismissed the request for a temporary restraining order to stop incineration.
- On April 14, 1998, the trial court dismissed the entire lawsuit brought by AIR stating that the group cannot file suit in either state or federal court to halt the remediation plan adopted by the EPA.