Weather permitting, an emergency response team from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin stabilizing hazardous wastes at Petro Chem Recycling Corp.'s North Salt Lake plant Monday.
The leaking waste, health officials warn, could endanger the public health.Petro Chem formerly operated an oil refinery at the site, two blocks southwest of Beck Street. The old Ekotek refinery, 1628 N. Chicago St., still contains substantial amounts of stored used petroleum products in tanks and drums, a portion of which are now leaking.
Friday, the Utah Health Department's Division of Environmental Health solicited the assistance of the EPA to stabilize the area, until a permanent solution can be found.
"The money the EPA is using is Superfund (emergency) removal money," said Kenneth L. Alkema, di vision director. "They took a similar action about three years ago at Wasatch Chemical."
The state enlisted the help of the EPA only after negotiations with Petro Chem failed.
Brent C. Bradford, director of the Division's Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste, who is leading the state's efforts against Petro Chem, said an order was issued in March 1988 detailing the steps necessary to bring the site in compliance with the law.
He said to date the company has failed to conform to the provisions of the order and the public health is threatened.
"Aged and deteriorating petroleum products are continually pres-ent in groundwater both inside and adjacent to the Petro Chem property," he said. "Materials from the decaying products on site add substantially to this situation after each rain or snow storm."
Bradford said ignitable materials in the above-ground storage tanks appear to be leaking from the tanks themselves, their pipings and fittings, and one of the larger tanks is leaking hydrogen sulfide gas.
"The roof is leaking on the principal warehouse at the site, which contains an an estimated 300 corroding drums of various wastes," he stressed. "The Department of Health is also concerned about the proximity of residences to Petro Chem and absence of site security."
Bradford said Petro Chem has had ample time to comply with the order. But according to Alkema, lack of sufficient finances may have prohibited the company from complying.
As many as 2,500 to 3,000 different companies and individuals who have been involved with the site could be held responsible for the cost of the cleanup. The parties include all the waste generators, transporters, and owners/operators of the refinery.
The companies with a legal or financial stake in the site have formed the "Ekotek Site Remediation Committee" to organize voluntary environmental cleanup of the property. A Petro Chem representative said the committee hopes to obtain financial contributions from these groups and direct the cleanup of the site.
The health department wants the committee to expedite its efforts.
"We believe there is a growing, significant potential for adverse impact on public health and environment necessitating our request to EPA to come in and stabilize the site while we proceed with enforcement action against Petro Chem," Bradford said.
Site stabilization will include locating and identifying each product on site, plus removing ponded materials and making the site secure.
Peter Stevenson, incident commander for EPA, said his team will repair fences around the site. They will pump oily liquids from open ponds into storage tanks and collect samples from wastes left scattered around the site. "We're trying to make the place secure so we can leave it for a couple of weeks while we negotiate a cleanup with the potentially responsible parties," he said.