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Emergency Cleanup Targets Coating Site

Friday, September 21, 2012

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A federally mandated emergency cleanup of more than 27,000 pounds of hazardous and toxic chemicals is underway at an old metal plating company in Wisconsin.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began the cleanup Sept. 12 at Niphos Coatings Inc., in Slinger, WI, just one day after an agency On-Scene Coordinator conducted a walk-through at the site and determined that an emergency response was required.

 Niphos Coatings Inc.

 Photos: EPA

EPA emergency response teams have founded hundreds of drums, barrels and other containers of various chemicals, including sodium cyanide and nitric acid.

Several weeks earlier, local officials had discovered that hundreds of drums, vats, tanks, barrels and totes containing acids, cyanides and other hazardous materials had been abandoned at the facility when it shut down in March 2010.

The Niphos Coatings property is surrounded by residential homes and located just a few blocks from three schools. The former electroless nickel plating facility is housed in a two-story wood-frame structure that dates to the 19th century, village officials said. Paint is peeling from the siding.

Inventory and Sampling

Much of EPA’s initial site work has involved sampling, inventorying, labeling and testing of the materials. An air monitoring system has also been set up.

So far, more than 300 containers of various sizes have been inventoried. On Friday (Sept. 21), EPA and its contractor finally began to remove some of the materials from the site, an EPA spokesman said.

EPA was unable to estimate a timeframe for the cleanup. The agency is still sampling the chemicals to determine how best to remove them and is trying to secure appropriate disposal facilities.

"If one of those containers were to start leaking, we could potentially have adverse health effects to the people in the area," said Jaime Brown, EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator.

The county’s emergency management coordinator worries that fire could trigger a toxic vapor release or that vandals could enter the site, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which also has photos of the cleanup.

EPA’s On-Scene Coordinator is updating the Niphos Coating cleanup through the OSC’s website.

Inspector Falls Ill

The mess came to light Aug. 20, when a fire inspector from the Village of Slinger visited the property. Reports said the company owner had mentioned several months earlier that he would be removing chemicals from the building.

When the inspector arrived, he found “rooms packed with hazardous substances,” the Journal Sentinel reported. Labels indicated a variety of chemicals.

The old plating company is located in a residential neighborhood near three schools. Niphos Coatings’ owner closed the business in March 2010 and never cleaned up, officials said.

"When the building inspector came back to my office, he was visibly shaken and concerned by the condition of the property and the amount of chemicals in the property," Village Administrator Maureen Murphy told the newspaper.

Murphy then summoned the state emergency management agency, which sent a building inspector who fell ill from the chemical vapors and was briefly hospitalized.

Gaining Access

The case then quickly escalated to federal status, but officials were unable to gain immediate access to the property. The unsecured structure stood, without warnings or tape, until federal officials could persuade the site owner, Thomas Harju, to allow access to the site, according to reports.

Harju had stopped paying property taxes for the business in 2007 and had ignored repeated requests from county and state emergency government officials for information on hazards at the site, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Still, officials thought it would be quicker to try to persuade Harju than to obtain a court order, and he gave permission.

On Sept. 11, Brown conducted his walk-through inspection; the next day, emergency removal activities began.

Cyanide, Nitric Acid and More

Officials say they believe the building contains about 750 pounds of copper cyanide; 27,589 pounds of nickel sulfate; 4,198 pounds of nitric acid; and 3,500 pounds of sodium cyanide.

Sodium cyanide releases hydrogen cyanide gas, a highly toxic chemical asphyxiant that can kill quickly. Nitric acid is a toxic, colorless, highly corrosive liquid used in explosives. It can cause severe burns.

Reports said the emergency response team had counted more than 300 barrels and drums and 100 smaller containers.

The emergency cleanup is being funded by EPA’s Superfund program. In the future, the agency will try to recover cleanup costs from the owner.

Harju told the newspaper that he opened his business in 1983 and had kept it running with his own money when the recession it. He said he never secured or cleaned up the site because he hoped to revive the business.


Tagged categories: Construction chemicals; EPA; hazardous materials; Paint disposal

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