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December 5, 2002

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Hearing on CSD put off until Jan. 23
Residents fear problem might never be solved

Thursday, December 5, 2002


Enterprise Staff Writer

Local environmental activists say they worry that an agreement reached last week between the Ohio Attorney General's Office and Columbus Steel Drum will only delay the resolution of problems at the local company.

The agreement, released by the attorney general's office last week, postpones until Jan. 23 a hearing -- before Judge Richard C. Pfeiffer of the Franklin County Municipal Court's environmental division -- to determine how effective the company has been in solving its air quality and odor problems.

"It's a disappointment," said Ohio Citizen Action spokeswoman Simona Vaclavikova. "The community has to deal with these odors for another month and a half. It's not addressing the issue of immediacy whatsoever."

This agreement calls for Columbus Steel Drum to conduct an odor review and abatement study of "each and every air contaminant source" at the Gahanna plant. It also requires the company to allow the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency staff to witness testing and inspect testing equipment. The company also must provide the regulatory agency with all documentation provided by the testing consultant, RK & Associates.

The consultant is required to test for the sources of odors as well as analyze samples taken from those sources.

Ultimately, RK & Associates is responsible for developing a comprehensive odor control plan for the plant. That plan is to include methods for reducing emissions from the plant, capturing and treating the remaining odors and improving the operation, maintenance, monitoring and record-keeping for each of the plant's pollution control devices.

According to attorney general spokeswoman Stephanie Beougher, the deadline for Columbus Steel Drum to submit its plan is the Jan. 23 hearing.

While the agreement addresses the attorney general's request for immediate relief, Beougher said, the original suit against the company is still pending. A court date has not yet been set.

Columbus Steel Drum's local operations manager, Ron Grannan, said on Nov. 27 that he had not seen the agreement -- reached between the attorney general and the Cincinnati-based company headquarters -- and could not comment on its contents.

However, Grannan said, he is pleased the matter was addressed outside the courtroom.

To Lou Smith, chairman of the Rocky Fork Creek Task Force, such a development is far from good news.

"I think the issue needs to be brought out into the open," Smith said. "Because of their poor track record - this has been going on for so many years - if they can't resolve these things immediately, I think they should be shut down until everything thing has been corrected."

The attorney general's office filed suit against Columbus Steel Drum last month after the EPA received more than 15 verified complaints against the company.

According to state law, verified complaints require the the EPA to conduct an investigation and, if the complaint is found to be valid, refer it to the attorney general's office for resolution. Among those who have filed this specific type of complaint are The City of Gahanna, the Jefferson Township Board of Trustees, the Mifflin Township Fire Department and the Franklin County Board of Health.

In addition to strong odors, some area residents and industrial park neighbors have complained of nausea, dizziness, headaches, sore throats and burning eyes when exposed to fumes from the facility.

Columbus Steel Drum uses caustic chemicals and a high-temperature furnace to recondition 55-gallon drums used to store commercial products such as paints, solvents and cleaners. The plant processes approximately 5,000 drums a day.

Vaclavikova -- who has helped organize about 15 of Columbus Steel Drum's neighbors into the Gahanna-Jefferson Citizens for a Safe Environment (G-J CASE) -- said she too has doubts that the agreement will resolve problems at the plant.

"There is reason to be skeptical," Vaclavikova said. "Columbus Steel Drum has made a lot of promises and presented a lot of ideas and plans on how to abate the odors in the past. It has never worked."

The fact that the consultant charged with identifying the problem and finding a solution was selected by the company also is questionable, she said.

"Who's paying them?" Vaclavikova asked. "How much are they really going to find and are they really going to address the serious issues?"

A spokesman for the attorney general's office, however, said this agreement puts the state in a position of strength from which to deal with the company.

"This puts it in writing that the company is doing the study, who's doing the work and the scope of the work," said Stephanie Beougher of the attorney general's office. "If they don't do it, we can go back to court and ask they be held in contempt. We have an enforceable order."

<b>msegaloff@thisweeknews.com



 
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