Columbus Steel Drum:
Come clean, be a good neighbor

Columbus Steel Drum reconditions used 55-gallon drums for resale. Containers can have up to one inch of hazardous materials left in them. Drums are decontaminated in gas-fired furnace, spray-cleaned, and repainted at a rate of about 7,000 drums a day.

Columbus Steel Drum is a large facility with many processes. The main areas of concern are the gas-fired furnace, spraying booths (cleaning and painting lines), run-off water, retention ponds.

Furnace Air/Hazardous Waste

Open head steel drums are placed on a conveyor belt, upside down, and moved into a gas-fired burner where they get decontaminated by thermal oxidation. The unit operates under the Ohio EPA air pollution permit. The exact amounts of pollutants released from this facility must comply with the law. The facility failed its 'stack test' in April 2001. Furnace emissions exceeded the legal limits of pollution for lead, chromium, and particulate matter. Lead emissions were as much as three times over the legal limit. The facility continues to operate without compliance with some of its air permits.

Drums have also been seen exiting the furnace still on fire on numerous occasions. This indicates that there was either way too much chemical waste in the drum to start with and the furnace was not able to burn all the waste, or the temperature under which the furnace must operate was not within its legal limits. The furnace must operate at a temperature of at least 1800 degrees Fahrenheit all the time.

Spray Booths - Air

These booths apply coatings to the interior and exterior of the drums. Recently, Ohio EPA has found out that many of the cleaning and painting units at the facility had been installed and operated for decades without first obtaining legal permits. This means there is no way to monitor the amount of pollution or find out what chemicals are being released into the air. The known pollutants include lead, chromium, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, and many organic compounds.

Storage Yard Soil

This yard consists of unpaved bare ground, often muddy. Drums are stacked up to 10 feet high, on their sides, in long rows. An estimated number of drums on this yard is about 50,000. Most of the drums, containing unknown chemical substances, have been stored there for several years and represent unidentified serious hazards.

Air pollution

Columbus Steel Drum continues to operate some of its air emission units without first obtaining legal permits, which means there is no way to monitor the amount of pollution or find out what is being released. The known pollutants include lead, chromium, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, mercury, nickel, and many organic compounds.

Water and land pollution

Soil and ground water pollution at the facility goes back to the 1980s. The so-called 'hot spots' at the site contain metals such as lead and zinc as well as cancer-causing chemicals such as pyrene. There are many private wells in the area that are being used but are not monitored.

Retention ponds store surface water -- mostly wash water -- on the site. The fact that these ponds are not lined means that nothing stops the above mentioned pollutants and more from freely migrating to the soil and underground water.

Contaminated discharges from the site constitute an ongoing violation of the permits (elevated levels of zinc, copper, cyanide and many organic compounds have been found in the past). Discharges eventually end up in the Blacklick Creek, freely accessible to local population, and animals.

Approximately 50,000 drums continue to be stored on the site. Many contain waste of unknown origins.

Health problems

Neighbors have suffered from odors and plumes and nearby businesses and two schools have had to be evacuated. Metals such as lead, chromium, zinc, and copper mostly affect the human nervous system. Many other chemicals present at the site such as pyrene can cause cancer.

In the 1990s, U.S. EPA assessed the level of contamination at Columbus Steel Drum and its potential effects on the population. They found that nothing stops toxic chemicals from freely traveling through the air and ground water. The hazardous ranking score at the site was high enough to meet Superfund (top-priority) clean-up standards.

What we want

Columbus Steel Drum must -

  1. Stop emitting hazardous odors and plumes immediately

  2. Clean up all contamination on and off site

  3. Stop the continued air, soil, and surface water pollution and comply with laws.
For more information, or to get involved, contact Simona Vaclavikova, Ohio Citizen Action, (614) 263-4111.