All Material Suburban News Publications
Columbus, Ohio

Published May 15, 2002

Residents raise stink over odor
City officials are watching Columbus Steel Drum
after 71 residents called to complain last Wednesday


Employees of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will meet this week to discuss whether an air monitoring system requested by officials from Gahanna and Mifflin and Jefferson townships will be installed in the wake of 71 natural gas-like odor complaints made last Wednesday against Columbus Steel Drum.

The odor was due to a power outage on a furnace scrubber unit at the company on Blatt Boulevard in Gahanna's industrial district.

On that day, a temperature inversion and uncharacteristic southeasterly winds pushed the odor north from the plant, as far as City Hall and as far as west as Chapelfield Road on the city's west side.

A total of 71 complaints were lodged that day with Mifflin Division of Fire, Gahanna Division of Police and Columbia Gas, said Mifflin Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Hussey.

The company, which recycles industrial steel drums, since has sent a letter to Gahanna Mayor Becky Stinchcomb and other parties regarding the source of the odor, its environmental manager Holly Vail said.

Vail said Columbus Steel Drum will install several packed-bed scrubbers as a result of the complaints. It also will replace water in one process daily, instead of every other day. Additional cleansing chemical use and controls are being contemplated, she said.

The problem started when the scrubber unit on a furnace lost power but the furnace, used in part of the process to clean and re-use the steel drums, kept operating. Vail said the connection of electricity of the two units is set to be completed this week. In the event power is lost to either unit in the future, neither unit will function.

An alarm that notes when a power loss occurs also is being installed, Vail said.

Mike Ebner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the company has received six "notices of violation" related to its air quality permit. A seventh presently is being drafted as a result of an April 16 inspection.

"They've always responded" to the notices, Ebner said, but sometimes the responses have not included requested compliance plans and schedules.

In part to address problems such as what occurred last Wednesday, an interdiction team of officials from public agencies in the city and townships, the state and Franklin County was formed two years ago, said Sadicka White, Gahanna development director.

"I thought our department was going in the right direction in terms of dealing with complaints, up until (last Wednesday)," White said.

"It's a matter of some concern for city, obviously, in terms of city's top priority, which is the health, safety and welfare of the community," she said.

White said the interdiction team will meet again "in the very near future" to review last week's events and discuss possible followup action.

Some citizens already have taken action, according to Simona Vaclavikova, spokeswoman for Ohio Citizen Action in Columbus. After an odor event earlier this year, the watchdog organization, which counts 100,000 members in the Buckeye state, started a letter-writing campaign to Columbus Steel Drum. About 1,300 letters have been received and forwarded to the company since February.

Vaclavikova said members she's spoken with have indicated the company responded to each of their letters, which she said owner Edward Paul said he would do.

"Paul told me that he wants to be a good neighbor," Vaclavikova said.

The spokeswoman said Paul told her he was aware of the pollution, but attempted to blame it on previous owner Sidney Blatt, who still owns the Gahanna site's land. The watchdog group has suggested the addition of equipment to help mitigate problems, Vaclavikova said.

"We don't have any future meetings scheduled, but communications have been established," she said.

Hussey said odor complaints in the area have been "on the rise" the past six months.

"People are mistaking this for a natural gas leak," he said.

If the fire department believes it is a gas leak, it sends no fewer than four vehicles, the same response as for a structure fire.

The odor complaints are "overtaxing our emergency resources," Hussey said.

Stinchcomb said she thought about issuing a public alert until the company agreed to close down the part of the operation for the day that was causing the odor to be released.

"I hope we can come to a good resolution of this," Stinchcomb said. "The health of the citizens of Gahanna is uppermost."

Stinchcomb, who was alerted to the smell by emergency management director Jim Williams, said she went to Columbus Steel Drum last Wednesday to voice the city's dissatisfaction with the event. She also had another message.

"We're watching," Stinchcomb said.