ADEM requests federal resources to address REEF issues
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has requested federal resources be used to resolve ongoing issues at REEF Environmental after unsuccessful attempts to develop a local solution.

In a press release Wednesday, ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said they have “effectively utilized our state resources and worked with local officials to utilize their resources in an effort to try and achieve a resolution to the REEF issue. We are now continuing that process by seeking federal resources to address the issues at this facility.”

ADEM officials met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to assess the former industrial waste treatment facility, which left about 13 million gallons of untreated wastewater on site when it ceased operations in 2010.

The agencies will eventually develop a long-range plan to clean up the Twin Street facility, but are currently focusing on two time-critical issues, ADEM’s Birmingham Field Operations Chief Paul Rogers said at a City Council meeting Wednesday.

Their primary concerns are relieving a large gas bubble that has formed under a tarp, which covers a basin of about 3 million gallons of wastewater, as well as controlling oily leakage flowing into Shirtee Creek from the same basin.

“We’ve got a couple plans available to us to try to mitigate (the gas bubble) and do some type of controlled release and treatment,” Rogers said. “We don’t want it to release all at one time on its own. We want to be able to control that, so we’re working on how we’re going to be able to do that.”

ADEM representatives noticed an oily substance flowing into the creek when they came for an inspection Monday, prompting them to involve the EPA, Rogers said. The leak will be addressed once the bubble is under control.

Rogers advised that odors from the facility will likely intensify as they work to alleviate the gas bubble.

“The odor threshold for these materials we’re dealing with is very low,” he said. “You smell it way before some of the machines will pick it up and before it becomes an issue. We will have air monitoring in place on the facility and off the facility to make sure nothing is going anywhere that’s going to cause problems, and if it does, we will shut operations down and figure out another way to approach that.”

ADEM has not recorded any elevated chemicals offsite, but onsite readings have been high, Rogers said. A 24/7 monitoring system was set up Wednesday to instantly alert ADEM of any unusual readings.

A Unified Command Center with representatives from ADEM, EPA and the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency has also been established on site. In addition, ADEM is coordinating with the Alabama EMA, state and local officials, the Talladega County Commission, the city of Sylacauga and Sylacauga Fire and Police Departments to ensure communication between all affected parties.

More than 500 totes of latex paint waste were recently removed from the site by a former REEF customer, Rogers said, and about 150 totes remain, along with nearly 6 million gallons of hazardous wastewater and 7 million gallons of partially-treated, non-hazardous waste.

REEF, which is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, essentially closed in June 2010 when the Sylacauga Utilities Board stopped accepting its discharges. The pungent odor that emanates from materials at the facility has long been a complaint among citizens, some even citing it as the cause of headaches and various respiratory issues.

For daily updates from the EPA, visit www.epaosc.net and find REEF in the “Recent Updates” box on the right-hand side of the page.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2012