Plant cited for release of toxic chemicals

Source: Richmond Register (KY), March 12, 2011
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection issued 10 notices of violation Thursday to the plant formerly known as Tokico, for its release of wastewater contaminated with a toxic pollutant.

The department’s Environmental Response Team (ERT) responded Feb. 4 to a report from Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas Inc. officials of the presence of a green-colored substance in the company’s storm water retention basin, according to a press release from the agency.

Sampling of the basin water revealed the presence of elevated levels of hexavalent chromium, which is used in the plant’s automotive manufacturing processes. Hitachi manufactures brakes, shocks and suspension systems for the auto industry and employs 1,100 people.

“Chromium is a chemical commonly used in the automotive industry to prevent corrosion on metal parts,” said Jason McGinnis, human resources director of the Hitachi plant, in a press release.

The water’s discoloration was unrelated to the chromium, but was caused by a harmless coolant product, the DEP said.

The ERT ordered the plant to stop discharges of wastewater into and out of the basin, and ordered the removal of the contaminated storm water by tanker trucks to approved off-site disposal facilities.

Sampling on the plant site and off site in streams has been ongoing since the spill was discovered. The DEP’s data has shown in-stream concentrations are now within acceptable levels and do not threaten public drinking water supplies.

Plant representatives “are cooperating fully with state officials to address the release and mitigate the site,” said R. Bruce Scott, DEP commissioner.

The company is working to stop any further discharges, investigate the cause and test water samples, McGinnis said.

Hitachi and state officials are testing and monitoring water and sediment to ensure that the community and company employees are not affected, he said.

Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, is a heavy metal that is commonly found in low levels in drinking water.

It can occur naturally in the environment, but also can enter drinking and surface water from industrial plants. Chromium 6 is known to be a potent carcinogen when inhaled.

“It was recently found to also cause cancer in laboratory animals (mice and rats) that were exposed through drinking water,” the DEP said. “Hexavalent chromium was a commonly used industrial chemical until the early 1990s and is still used in some industries, such as in chrome plating and the manufacturing of plastics and dyes.”

The investigation into the source of the release is continuing.

Hitachi president and CEO Masaaki Fujisawa said the company will work very closely with the state to resolve the problem.

“We deeply regret that this has happened and have hired an environmental consulting firm to provide the additional resources to assist with the containment effort,” Fujisawa said.

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