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April 22, 2003

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State isn't done with Steel Drum

Friday, April 18, 2003

Enterprise Staff Writer

Storm clouds continue to gather on the horizon for a Gahanna steel-drum recycler accused of pumping noxious odors and chemicals into the atmosphere.

While attorneys for Columbus Steel Drum and the Ohio Attorney General's office reached a partial settlement in the state's case against the Blatt Boulevard company last week, lawyers for the state said they plan to bring more charges and possibly another suit against the company.

A 12-page agreement approved by Franklin County Municipal Court Environmental Division Judge Harland Hale effectively resolves the state's request for a preliminary injunction against the company.

The attorney general's office filed suit against the company late last year after numerous area residents and businesses complained of foul odors emanating from the plant.

Last week's agreement requires Columbus Steel Drum to:

* Notify the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency of any malfunction in its operation.

* Perform emissions testing within 90 days for the release of hydrochloric acid.

* Submit within 30 days an analysis of all coatings used at the site.

* Retain within 15 days an engineering firm to perform specified studies at the plant and notify the OEPA of the name and address of the hired firm.

* Complete improvements to the facility's stacks and ventilation system, including installation of additional fans (within 75 days) and raising the height of each stack (within 60 days).

* Install additional oxidizers or incinerators within 75 days to control all coating oven emissions.

* Hire an outside company to inspect the plant's drum reclamation furnace, submit recommendations to ensure the proper operation of the furnace and implement those recommendations within 90 days.

* Make assessments of and additional improvements to the plant's emissions scrubbers.

* Limit the number of drums and drum lids lined and painted and confine operations to between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., unless notice is given in advance to the OEPA.

* File a status report every 30 days detailing the company's progress toward compliance with the agreement.

The agreement also stipulates a $1,000 per day penalty should Columbus Steel Drum fail to comply.

In a prepared statement, Columbus Steel Drum president Edward Paul said the company plans to continue improvements already under way at the facility.

"Columbus Steel Drum is committed to abating any offensive odors from its operations and to operating in compliance with all of the (OEPA's) regulations. The company has more than 170 employees and wants to be viewed as a good neighbor by the adjoining businesses in the industrial park and by the surrounding neighborhoods. This interim agreement is an important step in achieving this goal."

This is the second agreement the parties have made in an effort to resolve the state's suit. According to the latest court documents, the conditions of the first agreement - filed in November - have been met. That agreement required Columbus Steel Drum to retain a consultant to study the sources of odors emitted by the plant.

"It is substantially different and has a lot more meat in it than the previous order signed by my predecessor (on the bench)," said Hale -- who took over the court's environmental division from Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. in February -- of the agreement. "I am confident, having reviewed this in great detail, that it is the first step to resolving the environmental problems out there. That being said, I don't think it's a total solution. The intent of this order ... is to address the odor problem. It does not address the total environmental problem out there."

Hale said a trial date has not yet been set for the state's full case against Columbus Steel Drum.

"Although I will sign this agreed order today, the case will go on to discovery phase and be scheduled for trial," Hale said. "I'll put this on a fast track so I can encourage both sides ... to prepare for a full-blown hearing this year or certainly early next year."

Even with the concessions by Columbus Steel Drum, Assistant Ohio Attorney General Doug Curran said his agency plans to add up to 30 additional charges to its original complaint.

Curran said the new charges are all related to air quality issues at the plant.

He said the attorney general, along with the OEPA, also plans to prepare either additional charges or a separate case against Columbus Steel Drum related to allegations of contamination of water sources around the plant.

"This is the first step toward addressing the immediate need to control odors from Columbus Steel Drum," OEPA Assistant Director Joseph Koncelik said in a prepared statement.

"We are hopeful that it will solve the problem and neighbors will soon notice improvements. However, if these efforts are not successful, the state is prepared to seek additional controls."

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