Toxic leak leads to lawsuit

Source: The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR
February, 22, 2011
By: Christian Wihtol

A Goshen storage facility says PCB-laced waste from a Eugene recycler forced it to shut down for months

A waste oil storage facility in Goshen has been shut down for months because of contamination with toxic PCBs, and the facility’s operator is suing a Eugene metal recycling yard that it alleges is the source of the hazardous waste.

In its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Portland-based Oil Re-Refining Co. — ORRCO — is seeking $5 million plus cleanup costs from Pacific Recycling because of the PCB contamination.

A Pacific Recycling official denied that his company had any liability in the problem.

Separately, Pacific Recycling has been fined by the state Department of Environmental Quality for PCB contamination at its waste metal yard on Cross Street in west Eugene. The company has done substantial cleanup there, including digging up and removing contaminated soil, said Dan Lobato, a DEQ hazardous waste inspector.

PCB — polychlorinated biphenyl — is a carcinogen and suspected neurotoxicant that was used widely for many decades for its insulating properties in machinery and electrical equipment. Recognizing the highly toxic nature of PCB, Congress largely banned its production in 1979.

But problems with PCBs have persisted, both at old industrial locations where there is massive PCB pollution and as PCB-tainted lubricant is spilled periodically from old pieces of equipment.

Lobato said it appears that a piece of equipment that contained PBC oil was broken up at the Pacific Recycling facility, contaminating an area around the crushing machinery.

Metal recycling yards typically drain waste oil out of junk equipment before turning the metal into scrap, then have an oil recycler haul the oil away.

In its lawsuit, ORRCO says it picked up 1,000 gallons of waste oil from Pacific Recycling last March that ORRCO subsequently determined had PCB. The PCB-contaminated oil created “extensive contamination” of equipment, tanks and trucks at ORRCO’s Goshen facility, ORRCO said in its lawsuit.

“At substantial expense, ORRCO has kept its Goshen facility locked down, has segregated large amounts of contaminated used oils, has incurred substantial cleanup and remediation costs, and has been unable to operate trucks and tanks necessary to its core operations due to the contaminated load,” the lawsuit asserts. A DEQ official said the PCB-contaminated oil remains in a tank in Goshen.

Pacific Recycling denies any wrongdoing, said Mark Losco, Pacific Recycling’s environmental technician. “We don’t believe we have liability. We didn’t do anything outside the legal parameters,” he said. The company has not yet filed a reply to the lawsuit.

ORRCO, which has operations across the Northwest, collects waste oil from industrial and other customers and processes it, turning it into fuels or new lubricants.

The company last fall filed a lawsuit alleging that waste oil it picked up from a gasket-making factory in Utah turned out to be contaminated with PCB and has cost the company $5 million in cleanup expenses and lost business, according to legal affairs websites.

ORRCO is seeking $45 million in punitive damages and attorney fees in that case. The oil contaminated ORRCO storage or processing sites in Portland, Klamath Falls and Salt Lake City, the lawsuit alleges.

ORRCO says it had been collecting waste oil from Pacific Recycling since 2005. Under its arrangement with Pacific Recycling, the scrap yard was supposed to notify ORRCO if any waste oil had contaminants such as PCB, ORRCO says in the suit.

After picking up the 1,000-gallon load March 4, ORRCO took the oil to its Goshen storage facility, the suit says. Subsequent testing by ORRCO found that the oil, plus equipment and trucks, were contaminated with PCB, OR­RCO says.

ORRCO says that later testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered high concentrations of PCB at the Pacific Recycling facility, and that the brand of PCB — Aroclor 1260 — matched the PCB at the Goshen facility.

The state DEQ said the EPA has retained authority over the pollution investigation at the Go­shen site.

“Our enforcement program is looking into it,” said Hanady Kader, a spokeswoman at the EPA Seattle office. The agency won’t comment further and says it has not taken any formal enforcement action, Kader said.

The EPA is also looking into remedial steps at the Pacific Recycling site, the DEQ’s Lobato said. The EPA declined to confirm or deny that.

The DEQ levied a $5,650 fine against Pacific Recycling for the spills at its site. The company appealed the sum, but the DEQ upheld it, and the company says it has accepted the fine.

As part of its cleanup, the company dug up and properly disposed of about 150 cubic feet of PCB-contamined soil, Lobato said.

Pacific Recycling employs more than 40 people. It processes a range of metals that it sells into the domestic and foreign markets, according to its website.

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