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EPA files complaint against Oeser for dangerous wastes violations

Release Date: 9/23/2003
Contact Information: Cheryl Williams
(206) 553-2137

September 23, 2003

The Northwest office of the Environmental Protection Agency today filed a complaint against the Oeser Company, a Bellingham wood treating plant, for on-going violations of state and federal laws governing the handling and disposal of hazardous chemicals.

In its complaint (attached) the EPA notes that the company routinely failed to account for, contain, and dispose of wood preservatives used at its facility.

The site inspections of the facility conducted by EPA and review of records following each inspection; and review of Respondent’s response to EPA’s information request suggest that the company has routinely mismanaged wood preserving chemicals, particularly pentachlorophenol (or “penta”), (which the EPA has classified as a probable human carcinogen**) because it:
  • failed to contain excess wood-treating wastes on “drip-pads”;
  • failed to clean-up drippage from treated poles;
  • failed to identify wastes as dangerous;
  • failed to properly dispose of dangerous wastes at an approved facility;
  • failed to properly train personnel on safe handling and disposal procedures for dangerous wastes;
  • failed to have a groundwater monitoring program; and
  • stored dangerous wastes for more than 90 days.
“Although Oeser is a small company, it is one of the major Northwest producers of treated poles,” said Rick Albright, EPA’s regional director for its Office of Waste and Chemicals Management. “Their management practices contributed to its status as a Superfund site. Those practices have continued and it’s our responsibility to ensure that the company stops contaminating the environment and endangering human health.”

The EPA did not propose a specific penalty in the complaint, but believes the company has committed significant violations. Under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) penalties of up to $27,500 per day for each violation may be imposed and the violations alleged are such that the agency believes that a substantial penalty is warranted. However, the EPA recognizes that this company’s financial ability to pay a penalty may be limited. The Oeser Company, a relatively small company, is also responsible for Superfund cleanup costs at its property. EPA generally will not assess penalties that are clearly beyond the means of the violator. EPA’s penalty demand in this case will be made after consideration of any information the company can provide on its inability to pay and the nature of the violations.

In its complaint, the EPA requires the company to immediately cease disposing of dangerous waste at the facility, immediately cease illegal storage of dangerous waste, to monitor the groundwater under the facility and to clean-up various locations where dangerous waste has been disposed. The company is also required to provide proof of financial ability to pay for current and future clean-up at the site, as well as any sudden or unexpected release of dangerous waste at or from the site.

** Pentachlorophenol was once one of the most widely used biocides in the United States, but it is now a restricted use pesticide and is no longer available to the general public. It was primarily used as a wood preservative. Pentachlorophenol is extremely toxic to humans from acute (short-term) ingestion and inhalation exposure. Acute inhalation exposures in humans have resulted in neurological, blood, and liver effects, and eye irritation. Chronic (long-term) exposure to pentachlorophenol by inhalation in humans has resulted in effects on the respiratory tract, blood, kidney, liver, immune system, eyes, nose, and skin.

Human studies are inconclusive regarding pentachlorophenol exposure and reproductive effects. Human studies suggest an association between exposure to pentachlorophenol and cancer. Oral animal studies have reported increases in liver tumors and two uncommon tumor types. EPA has classified pentachlorophenol as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.

For more information, please visit the Oeser Superfund & RCRA Cleanup information page.