It’s taken about a year so far, and now it looks like it could be the end of the year before the last of the remaining residue can be hauled away.
After treating and releasing some 20 million gallons of industrial wastewater into Shirtee Creek and spraying it onto grass at the facility, the remaining sludge will need to be hauled by truck to a landfill. Make that by “trucks”. They’re estimating it will take upwards of 1,600 truckloads to get the job done.
But on the bright side, EPA is estimating the total cost of the project could end up at $4.5 million, lower than even the low end of the initial end of what was predicted.
But that’s still millions of taxpayer dollars that have been used to clean up someone else’s mess. EPA has said the government will attempt to recoup those dollars.
Lawsuits against Reef Environmental were filed years ago. The company filed for bankruptcy.
Previous reports indicated the government might also look to the sources of the waste to recover the cleanup costs. In this case, the sources would appear to be Reef’s customers, more than two dozen companies, many of them supplying the automotive and lubrication industries.
Nauseating odors from the plant brought complaints almost from the time Reef began operating in 2007. Complaints about the bad smell continued to grow, and some residents complained they were suffering respiratory problems from airborne chemicals. Even after Reef stopped accepting wastewater in 2010, the odors continued to waft across neighboring areas.
EPA only became involved after an oily substance was observed leaking into Shirtee Creek, and the agency’s cleanup crew had some success using hydrogen peroxide to neutralize odors.
Tough lessons have been learned from the experience, but at least actions have been taken to try to prevent a similar problem from occurring somewhere else in the state.
A new law was signed last year requiring a performance bond or other insurance be posted for any new waste treatment facilities when seeking a permit. The bond would be in an amount sufficient to properly close the facility if it were to cease operations or fail to comply with state regulations.
But that’s about it. The Reef site is located outside Sylacauga’s city limits. If it were annexed, the city could at least rezone the area to control what types of operations are conducted there.
But local governments still have little in the way of legal authority to deal with a similar problem in the future.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management responded to complaints many times to investigate the problem, but the agency evidently lacks the means, resources and authority to provide a remedy.
An oily leak was the only thing that gave the state the key to the solution, which was to call in the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Otherwise, there might still be no action at the site.
We’re certainly glad the federal government came in to help, but we wish our state and local officials had what they needed to achieve a quicker solution.