Sampling of residue begins in East End

EAST LIVERPOOL – While a state regulatory agency began sampling Monday a residue emitted Saturday from the Heritage-Thermal hazardous waste incinerator, employees of the Saint George Street facility met with residents to offer free car washes.

Mike Settles of the OEPA said the agency did not sample Saturday and learned that samples taken by Heritage could not be analyzed for some unspecified reason.

“We are sampling our own swipes,” Settles said, saying OEPA representatives were in the area Monday “to see if we can capture anything and see if there is any reason for concern. It will take some time to get results (of the samples).”

Meanwhile, residents in the area were advised again to rinse off any fruits or vegetables they are growing prior to consuming them and to rinse out any outdoor pet food and water bowls “to be on the safe side,” Settles reiterated Monday.

The issue arose at about 1 p.m. Saturday when a large amount of ash fell from the interior walls of the incinerator during routine operations. The volume of the falling ash was greater than the ash removal system was able to handle, causing an undetermined amount of ash to be released outside the facility and into the air.

Several bags of vermiculite being stored nearby were also ignited by a falling ember, but that fire was quickly extinguished by the on-site emergency responders.

Settles said Heritage has 15 days in which to submit a report to the OEPA, detailing what occurred, and the agency will review the report to determine if any violations of the facility’s permit took place or if there is anything that should be done differently in the future.

What substances were in the material released into the air have still not been identified to the public, and Settles said it “can be difficult to determine what’s in it and where it came from” when sampling residue in the area around the incinerator due to it being an industrial area and because, he said, historically, nearby S. H. Bell has been known to emit similar materials.

“There is obviously a lot of concern in the community,” Settles said.

Asked about a rumor that the OEPA had declined to test any samples, instead suggesting residents taken samples to Heritage for testing, Settles said he knows of no such agency directive.

While sampling was taking place by the OEPA, employees of Heritage were also canvassing the neighborhood Monday, asking residents of their specific concerns and offering to clean up anything they believed needed rid of the fallen ash.

Heritage spokesman Raymond Wayne said, “We hit the streets today,” saying employees wiped down the playground area at Saint George and Mulberry streets and talked with many residents to assess their concerns.

In addition, residents are being advised they can take their vehicles to the Heritage facility to be rinsed off, with coupons for free car washes at the Uptown Car Wash on West Sixth Street also given out to anyone in the area who wanted one.

He said residents interested in the company testing samples of the residue on their properties “absolutely” can bring them there.

Asked if it is yet known what was contained in the ash that was released, Wayne said only, “We will wait for the results.”

The facility was scheduled for a voluntary outage on Sunday until July 31 for maintenance, with Wayne pointing out the brick in the incinerator must be replaced annually and, while that is done, other maintenance and any needed repairs are completed.

The accident prompted the outage a day early, he said.

The ash fell into the quench as it is designed to do, but there was a larger than normal buildup of ash, Wayne said, confirming that its removal would have included in the maintenance done during the planned outage.

In addition to the free car washes and cleaning, Heritage established a toll-free number for residents to call and voice their concerns or questions. They can call 1-800-343-1984 between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with company employees manning the line.

Wayne encouraged residents to leave a message if they reach an answering machine, with all messages to be returned.