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Still no answers regarding hazardous waste incinerator

EAST LIVERPOOL — East Liverpool residents are no closer to answers regarding a hazardous waste incinerator than they were six months ago.

During a 45-minute safety committee meeting of East Liverpool City Council last week, a local environmental activist group asked that a health study be requested as a result of this resolution and a lack of information about a new material being processed at the plant.

According to Alonzo Spencer of Save Our County, Heritage Thermal Services on the city’s east end is now processing PFAS, which is a broad group of perfluroroalkl and polyfluoroalkyl substances contained in items like carpet protectant and non-stick cookware because of their ability to repel water and protect surfaces. However, the chemicals also are heat and thermal resistant, which becomes a problem as activists question if the incinerator is properly equipped to break them down in the first place.

Three members of the group, including Spencer, attended the committee meeting, which was scheduled to reveal answers that chairman Jeff Kreefer, also a councilman from the Third Ward, had received in December from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to concerns. However, they said Kreefer actually received no answers at all — especially regarding the PFAS.

“These chemicals are untested, unregulated, potentially very dangerous and they want to bring them into East Liverpool and we are against it,” Mike Walton of SOS said, adding they have been proven to cause cancer, cause birth defects and other health problems.

In fact, they are so potentially poisonous that the trio alleged that the military doesn’t want to deal with them.

In July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper created a task force to determine the extent of the contamination and potential health risks to military personnel and families posed by the PFAs, according to an article in the Military Times.

The Department of Defense has identified 401 sites on active and former military bases where PFAS potentially were released and are declining to release the number and locations until they have been verified.

U.S. officials believe that they may have undercounted.

PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals,” because of their inability to break down and build up in blood and tissues if absorbed.

Kreefer provided a copy of a three-page letter from the U.S. EPA dated Dec. 18, which outlines a variety of issues, including the federal government’s allowing HTS to operate in violation of permit requirements.

This follows the EPA’s acknowledgment that it issued a 2015 Finding of Violation for intermittent violations at the facility that occurred between 2010 and 2014, and a consent degree was issued in 2018. The letter, written by Sarah Marshall of compliance assertion, notes, “(The) EPA believes that the consent degree will aid Heritage’s efforts to come into compliance with the regulations listed in the FOV. Heritage’s facility has been listed in ECHO since March 2015 for the violations and will remain (there) until the consent degree is approved by the court.”

Marshall added, “Based on current information, (the) EPA does not believe that Heritage’s facility poses such an endangerment. Should (the) EPA receive information showing an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health, welfare or the environment, it will take any available actions to eliminate that endangerment.”

Heritage Thermal Services currently operates under a Title V permit issued in June 2017.

On the issue of the PFAS waste, Marshall concludes, “(The) EPA recognizes and shares the council’s concern over the incinerator of PFAS waste. Heritage recently informed EPA that it has incinerated PFAS waste at the facility and intends to continue this practice,” adding that federal officials are unaware of the source for the incinerated PFAS waste and are evaluating whether it is a violation of the facility’s permit.

Those in attendance included council members Fred Rayl, Scott Barrett, Ernest Peachey and Craig Stowers as well as council President John Torma, who lives in the east end.

Rayl expressed, “I believe this committee has exhausted its concerns with Heritage. I don’t believe (we) can do anymore at this time.”

Torma agreed this committee had done more than its predecessors on the issue — especially regarding its efforts to look out for city residents.

Kreefer had repeatedly reiterated throughout the meeting that the concerned citizens should direct any further questions to the U.S. EPA in the future. “We are not turning our heads on this,” he said, adding that they will continue to assist as needed.

However, they weren’t prepared to take the lead as SOS members sought them to do.

Becky Ammon, another member of SOS, also was in attendance and urged council to be vigilant in pursuing answers. “(Council) will always be a party to this because the incinerator sits within the city of East Liverpool,” she said.

Spencer reiterated Ammon’s belief that council needs to be front and center.

“This body, there are some instances they have more authority than the EPA does because they represent the community where this facility is located,” he said, adding that he had been pursuing answers from the incinerator folks for three decades and received nothing. He opposes Heritage’s accepting this “toxic firefighter foam” and wants the city to request a health study “to see what effects this is having.”

“Heritage Thermal Services is a comprehensive health threat to this community,” he concluded before providing supporting documentation from a federal case making its way through court involving the U.S. EPA as the plaintiffs.

After Torma advised council members to seek a legal opinion before contacting Heritage on the matter, City Council members unanimously voted to withhold any action until they seek legal counsel on this latest matter.

“We are just spinning our wheels; we need facts,” he concluded.

The activists point out the investigation’s importance, citing that East Liverpool is “on the verge of becoming an environmental nightmare” because of the PFAS.

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