EPA, ADEM plan to treat gas at REEF
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – The Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continued efforts to mitigate two time-critical issues at the REEF Environmental facility Thursday.

ADEM’s Birmingham Field Operations Chief Paul Rogers said they have developed a plan to safely treat and expel a large pocket of hazardous gas that has formed under a tarp at the Twin Street site.

The agencies are bringing in a pollution control machine known as a “scrubber” to reduce high levels of hydrogen sulfide in the gas before it is released. The scrubber, which was expected to arrive from Texas Thursday night, uses a liquid solution to wash unwanted pollutants from the gas stream.

Workers also set up a misting system around the plant that will spray along with the scrubber to further control hydrogen sulfide levels, Rogers said.

“We don’t think it’s going to be an issue, but the misters will be there as an added safety precaution,” he said.

They aim to start the process today, Rogers said, and are otherwise continuing to monitor chemical levels at REEF and throughout nearby neighborhoods.

Rogers advised Wednesday that the odor from the facility will likely intensify as they work with the tarp.

“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.”

Once the gas issue is handled, they will focus on stopping oily leakage flowing into Shirtee Creek behind the facility, Rogers said.

A Unified Command Center set up at the site Wednesday includes representatives from ADEM, EPA and the Talladega County EMA who are communicating with local and state officials.

TCEMA director Deborah Gaither said at a City Council meeting Wednesday that citizens should always be prepared for an emergency situation.

“No matter where you live, it doesn’t matter if you live off of Twin Street or Fort Williams, there could be an incident or accident at any time,” Gaither said. “You need to know the steps to sheltering in place and how to safely evacuate. Make sure you and your family and neighbors talk over those things.”

Steps to sheltering in place are: go indoors, close all doors and window, move to a central location, turn off all ventilation and cover any crevices under doors, windows and electrical outlets.

ADEM announced Wednesday that it has requested federal assistance to resolve the remaining issues at REEF, which operated as an industrial waste treatment facility from 2007 until late 2010.

About 13 million gallons of wastewater, most of which is untreated, remain at the facility. ADEM has cited REEF for numerous violations since its closing and is currently involved in legal action against the company, which is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Rogers said Wednesday that the agencies will focus on a long-term cleanup solution once the two present issues are handled.

“The EPA is out there now, and when they leave, the site is not going to be completely dry,” he said. “There’s still going to be odors. We’re working on time-critical issues right now, but I’m also working with them on the next stage, which will be a removal process at the site to hopefully treat or get rid of the liquids in those basins out there that seem to be causing all the odor problems.”

For 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