EPA aims to empty REEF basins in 90 days
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning for a “cheap, fast and effective” cleanup of the REEF facility, said federal on-scene coordinator David Andrews.

“Those aren’t three things you can typically accomplish at once, but that’s what we’re going for,” Andrews said. “We are very sensitive to this situation. We know the bad odors have been going on for a long time, so getting it resolved is on our front burner.”

EPA is currently conducting “removal assessment” of the former industrial waste treatment facility, where 13 million gallons of untreated wastewater remain.

“Next week, we will go in to take samples and develop a fast game plan, and I want to emphasize fast, to remove the waste that has been causing the persistent odors,” Andrews said.

He said they are hoping to utilize the system that is already in place at the Twin Street site to treat the wastewater and possibly discharge it through the Sylacauga Utilities Board. An EPA Environmental Response Team from New Jersey will be at the site beginning Oct. 22 to oversee cleanup efforts.

“I would like to say we will have the materials removed from the basins within 90 days, and that is if all the players fall in line,” Andrews said. “We’re going to be working with Sylacauga Utilities and (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management) to hopefully streamline any issues that would normally hold up the process. We will, of course, monitor everything throughout, and if it isn’t working, we’ll go with another plan.”

Sylacauga Utilities General Manager Mike Richard said they have not yet been contacted by EPA, but remain open to hearing any proposals.

“We’re a public body, and we’re here for the community,” Richard said. “We will listen to any plans they may present us with and evaluate them at that time.”

Andrews said it is too early to know what the cleanup costs will be, but he did confirm that seeking reimbursement from former REEF customers is a likely option.

“Classically, we go into the records and see who delivered waste to the facility and look to those customers for cost recovery,” he said. “This area is really out of my reach, but I know we have been successful in the past using that option to pay for the entire cleanup.”

At a meeting with ADEM in June, local officials were told cleanup could cost anywhere from $5 to 30 million.

A number of local industries and businesses may be impacted by the cost recovery plan. A partial list of REEF customers provided by ADEM included the following companies: Nemak, Allen Oil, GEO Services, Holmes Oil, R&H Waste Oil, Industrial Chemical, B.R. Williams, Buck Oil Services, Mignon Properties, Avondale Mills, EWS, Tessenderio Kerley, US Pipe, Daniel Metal, Action Resources, NSS Technologies, Fleetwood Metals, Enbridge Energy, Shoreline Environmental, Hwashin America, PSC, Glory LLC, Ergon Terminalling, Goodyear Rubber, Wehadkee Yarns, Universal Enviro, JB Hunt and Tubular Products.

EPA became involved with REEF about two weeks ago when ADEM requested federal resources to help resolve emergency issues at the site.

According to a joint press release from the agencies Thursday, about 175,000 cubic feet of hydrogen sulfide gases were treated and released from under a tarp covering a wastewater basin during their response efforts last weekend. The treatment allowed for removal of tarps covering two equalization basins, at which time about 300,000 pounds of lime were added to the basins to adjust the pH and prevent the generation of gases.

In addition, absorbent booms were placed in Shirtee Creek to stop oily leakage flowing from the facility, and ambient air monitoring was conducted at seven locations in nearby areas. No elevated concentrations of pollutants presenting a health hazard were detected, the press release states.

About 7 million gallons of partially treated, non-hazardous wastewater are in an aeration basin at the site, while the equalization basins hold about 6 million gallons of untreated waste.

The noxious odor produced by the waste has plagued the community since REEF opened in 2007 and resulted in lawsuits from two citizens as well as the city of Sylacauga in 2009.

REEF essentially closed in 2010 when the Sylacauga Utilities Board stopped accepting its discharges, claiming REEF was causing it to violate its permitted levels of nitrogen. ADEM has since cited REEF for numerous air and water violations and is currently involved in litigation with the company, which is in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

For updates on REEF progress from EPA, visit www.epaosc.org/reefwaste.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2012