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August 29, 2002

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Township plans legal action against company

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Enterprise Staff Writer

Acting on behalf of the Jefferson Township board of trustees, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O'Brien has notified Columbus Steel Drum of the township's intent to file suit for alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

The trustees decided to seek O'Brien's help and prepare a suit earlier this summer after ongoing issues regarding Columbus Steel Drum's Blatt Boulevard facility escalated, township Administrator Ellen Walker said.

Walker said Blacklick Elementary School had to be evacuated in January because of the odor of that seemed to be natural gas. In May, the Mifflin Township Fire Department had about 70 reports of natural gas odor on one day. In both instances, Walker said, fire department officials traced the odor -- which was determined not to be natural gas -- to the vicinity of Columbus Steel Drum.

"What we found so appalling about this is the constant use of our emergency resources to run around examining non-existent natural gas leaks," Walker said. "When someone calls with a natural gas leak report, the emergency response team must go. Then what happens is those resources are no longer available when there is a real emergency.

"We're kind of tired of chasing down these blind alleys and wasting these resources," she continued. "I think our residents would agree that we're there for the real events."

Columbus Steel Drum has 60 days to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act or reach a settlement with the township. The act allows for civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation per day to be levied in federal district court.

The violations detailed in O'Brien's letter to Columbus Steel Drum include:

* Modifying emissions units without applying and obtaining permits.

* Mass emission violations.

* Failure to submit carbon monoxide emissions reports to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

* Air pollution nuisances, specifically objectionable odors.

According to Columbus Steel Drum operations manager Ron Grannan, steps are already being taken to resolve some of the issues raised by the trustees.

The company uses a caustic chemical, sodium hydroxide, to clean 55-gallon drums used to store commercial products such as paint, oils and cleaning solvents. Grannan said the plant processes and reconditions about 5,000 barrels a day. Barrels must have less than one inch of material left in them and cannot have been used to store pesticides, herbicides and other heavily regulated materials, he said.

Grannan's company, Columbus QCB Inc., purchased the plant in January.

Since then, Grannan said, the company has installed two emissions scrubbers. Installation of a third is scheduled to begin today. The scrubbers capture exhaust from the plants heavy machinery and keep it from escaping into the air, Grannan said.

"We've been what we feel is proactive toward this," Grannan said. "We're picking up some of the pieces from one and two owners ago and trying to move forward."

Columbus QCB is owned by by Cincinnati-base Container Recyclers Inc. That company owns an operation to Columbus Steel Drum in Cincinnati called The Queen City Barrel Co. Container Recyclers purchased the Columbus plant from Evans Columbus Inc., which had owned it since 1997. The plants originally opened in 1971.

Grannan said that when Columbus QCB took over the plant, there were no scrubbers at all installed. The incident in May, Grannan said, was the result of a power failure at the plant combined with low cloud cover that kept exhaust from dissipating into the air.

"Hopefully, with the scrubbers and some other improvements inside, we'll have everything behind us," he said.

But Jefferson Township is not alone in its frustration with the problems at Columbus Steel Drum.

In May, the Mifflin Township Fire Department filed a verified complaint with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The Franklin County Board of Health and City of Gahanna have done the same.

"The end game - the outcome - we all want to see is Columbus Steel Drum clean up," Gahanna Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said. "We'd like to see them get into compliance. They do employ a lot of people here, but the safety of the citizens comes first."

Stinchcomb added that at the same time, she does not want to see the company go out of business and leave the city responsible for other potential environmental issues at the site.

"I don't want to see government or the City of Gahanna have to get into the business of cleaning up," Stinchcomb said. "I am hoping they can clean it up so the taxpayers, in the end, are not stuck with a mess."

Simona Vaclavikova of Ohio Citizen Action said she has been helping to organize residents concerned about pollution from the plant since March.

Several meetings have been held and about 6,000 letters sent to the company, Vaclavikova said. Another community meeting is scheduled for tonight at 7 at the New Horizons Community Church at 2100 Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road.

While she is glad to see progress, Vaclavikova said she is only cautiously optimistic.

"One thing we would be afraid might happen is that, sometimes, they come to some type of agreement rather than pressuring them to really comply with the letter of the law," Vaclavikova said. "It's definitely a good sign. We're definitely happy that Jefferson Township is doing something on behalf of their citizens. I just hope the Jefferson Township Trustees will not back off and will stand on firm ground and that they will take seriously making sure this facility gets back into compliance."

What is the best way to cool off from the summer heat?
(Choose one answer)

Go to the pool

Go to Wyandot Lake

Run through a sprinkler

Eat ice cream

Sit in the shade

Stay inside with the AC running



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