Vandals have released contaminated liquid from storage tanks at Petro Chem Recycling Corp.'s Salt Lake plant for the second time in less than three weeks.

The Salt Lake City-County Health Department said that about 1,500 gallons of contaminated liquid were released Monday while cleanup crews were at lunch.The vandals apparently scaled a fence at 1628 N. Chicago St. to get access to the tanks and used specially designed wrenches to open tank valves.

Officials believe sabotage was behind the incident. EPA crews have been working since late November to stabilize the area surrounding the Petro Chem site, which has been contaminated with petroleum-based chemicals, some of which are flammable.

On Dec. 1 or 2, vandals entered the site undetected and opened valves that resulted in a 40,000-gallon spill. Holding ponds at the site kept most of the liquid from seeping off the property in both instances.

The Petro Chem site was closed in November after the owners failed to follow through on a state-ordered cleanup. The order contained guidelines intended to help the company bring operations into compliance with state and federal laws.

Storage tanks at the site, many containing used petroleum products, were found to be leaking and posing a threat to area groundwater. The EPA has been using federal Superfund money to stabilize the area and develop plans for cleanup operations.

EPA officials had hoped to meet with a committee consisting of representatives from companies involved with the plant, either as waste generators or transporters, along with the owners to work out a cleanup plan. EPA officials want companies that have either a financial or legal interest in the problem to help fund the cleanup.

Brent Bradford, director of the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, said Petro Chgem had ample time to comply with the cleanup order, but that a lack of money could have prohibited it. From 2,500 to 3,000 companies and individuals who contributed material might be responsible for the cleanup.

A Petro Chem representatiave said a committee is attempting to get money contributions from those with a financial or legal connection to the site.

Peter Stevenson, who heads the local EPA effort, said the latest incident will slow the investigation process but will not affect the conclusions. He said the holding ponds will make it possible to continue sampling the chemicals found at the site for comparison with those taken before the first incident.