WILLIAMSPORT – Faced with hundreds-of-thousands-of-gallons of abandoned chemicals near a populated area of Westfield Borough, the Department of Environmental Protection is stepping in to address the pressing environmental and fire hazards that remain at the former Westan tannery business in Tioga County.
Because the business is faced with millions of dollars in outstanding debt and is unable to cover the cleanup, Robert Yowell, director of DEP’s north central regional office, said the commonwealth will rely on the hazardous sites cleanup fund to cover the work.
The project contractor, URS Corporation, will give priority to investigating and removing the dangerous chemicals from the property because of the limited funding available through the program.
“When Westan closed its doors in May 2005, it left behind hundreds-of-thousands-of-gallons of chemicals that it used in its tannery business,” said Yowell. “Many of these substances are toxic and flammable and pose a considerable risk to the nearby residential area. So, to address the environmental and health risks, we’ll use the resources available to sample the various waste products and remove those that are hazardous first.
“It’s a critical first step in making the property safer for nearby residents and to ensure that, one day, it can be used by another business,” said Yowell, who also noted that the work will begin Monday.”
Yowell said the commonwealth will take all actions necessary against Westan to recover the money spent on the cleanup.
Since Westan ceased operations in May 2005, local, county and state government officials have been working to develop a strategy for eliminating environmental and fire hazards on the property
The Tioga County Development Corporation and the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission hired a consultant to conduct an environmental site characterization at Westan in July 2006. The consultant reported that the abandoned chemicals and other wastes located throughout the 400,000-square-foot property were environmental threats.
Some of the wastes include 300,000 gallons of tan yard liquors, 6,000 gallons of sulfuric acid, and hundreds of drums containing hazardous waste, thinners and waste oil.
Once URS Corporation has sampled the waste, it will prepare it for removal and disposal at a permitted facility.
URS Corporation will attempt to have all the sampling work completed in about seven weeks, barring any unexpected problems. DEP’s environmental cleanup program staff will oversee the contractor’s work.
Next week’s work follows other recent clean-up activities at the site. The Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority removed all outside plant trash from the site in September and, earlier this month, approximately 30 cubic yards of unusable Retan was removed and properly disposed. Retan is an agent used in the tanning process.
Yowell said this case underscore the importance of the hazardous sites cleanup fund.
“Often, property owners or those responsible for contaminating the environment are either unknown or unable to pay for clean-up work,” said Yowell. “Having the hazardous sites cleanup fund available makes it possible for the commonwealth to step in, help residents and protect the public.”
Governor Edward G. Rendell has urged the General Assembly to pass legislation that would provide a dedicated funding source for the program, which is an important state tool for responding to environmental threats, protecting the public’s safety and revitalizing communities.
The hazardous sites cleanup fund has been without a dedicated funding source since 2002 and a one-time allocation of $50 million will soon be depleted. DEP’s management of the fund has put it in a position to continue addressing imminent threats to the public’s health and safety until Jan. 1 and meet federal obligations through the end of the 2007-08 fiscal year.
In February, Governor Rendell proposed creating a dedicated funding source for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act fund with a $2.25-per-ton increase in municipal waste disposal fees. The plan would generate the approximately $50 million that is needed to fund a complete Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act program each year, with 40 percent of that total coming from other states that export trash to Pennsylvania. The commonwealth imports more municipal waste to its landfills than any other state in the nation.
To help pay for future work at the Westan property, DEP’s waste management program asked tanneries across the country is they were interested in bidding on the remaining raw materials and Wickett & Craig and Tannin Corp. paid about $37,000 for the materials, which are currently being removed.