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Metachem Cleanup Resets Priorities for Winter

Release Date: 11/5/2003
Contact Information: David Sternberg, 215-814-5548

David Sternberg, 215-814-5548

DELAWARE CITY – The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control have decided to suspend the chlorinated benzene removal /separation project (CR/SP) at the former Metachem plant as part of resetting priorities at the onset of cold weather.

The project is part of the government agencies’ cleanup and removal of hazardous chemicals from the bankrupt company’s plant in Delaware City.

“We have been successful in reducing the risk of a release into the environment. This is good news for the community, because it significantly reduces the threat to public health from millions of gallons of dangerous chemicals left behind by Metachem when it abandoned the plant,” said Michael Towle, EPA’s on-scene coordinator in charge of stabilizing the site.

The most dangerous chemicals – 235,000 gallons of volatile, carcinogenic benzene – have already been shipped offsite for sale.

The environmental agencies have further stabilized the site, separating liquid from solid chlorinated benzene compounds for easier, safer storage and disposal. This reduced a hazardous situation to a low potential for releases, now that the wastes are solidified, are contained within plastic, and are stored in a building which provides access control and protection from weather.

Since July, EPA and DNREC have operated a distillation column at the plant, separating 1.65 million gallons of mixed chlorinated benzene material containing dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

This “separation” process removed and separated 1.65 million gallons of liquid chemicals into solids and liquids. The chemicals were removed from 14 storage tanks, some in bad condition. The process resulted in the solidification of 706,000 gallons of this material, including some of the more toxic pollutants.

Eight of the tanks were left empty. Cleanup crews used remaining tanks to store about one million gallons of non-PCB liquids from the CR/SP separation process, and to consolidate chemicals from other tanks at the site.

The 706,000 gallons of solids are stored in 2525 containers. These are high-density polyethylene cubes inside metal frames called totes. The totes are housed in a secure warehouse. Some residual solidified material from the CR/SP also is stored in 60 55-gallon steel drums.

The material processed to date represents about 70 percent of the initial separation goal.
Two large tanks containing about 650,000 gallons of more stable material were not completely processed. EPA and DNREC will monitor the material remaining in tanks over the winter. The distillation column used in the process will be cleaned and decontaminated, so that the process could resume in the spring.

In suspending the separation project, hazardous cleanup managers have shifted their priorities to winterizing the facility, cleaning out the process area, shutting down the wastewater treatment plant, and disposing of the most hazardous materials at the site.

Initial indications are that the remaining solid materials stored in the totes may not be suitable for disposal in a landfill. The disposal method will be determined later.

EPA and DNREC have begun removing flammable liquids and acids from the process areas to prepare for shutdown of the wastewater treatment system. These liquids include: diethylbenzene, hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, fuel oils, ortho-dichlorobenzene (in condenser systems), and dichlorobenzene mixtures (tanks and lines).

Among priority tasks to be accomplished are removing sludge from basins, constructing new drainage, and installing new valves to dispose of rain water running over the contaminated site. Carbon filters will replace the wastewater treatment plant. This is more economical, and will be easier to manage.

Cleanup managers also will shut down the factory’s boilers, drain water lines, and secure against winter weather. They will set up a portable boiler to provide steam to chemical storage areas requiring heat through the winter. The managers also will eliminate heat to the on-site office building, and will work in portable trailers.

The separation project overcame numerous technical difficulties, including several power failures and blocked process pipes, as well as problems solidifying some of the liquid during the distillation process.

All chemicals on site are secure and stable, with minimal risk of release to the environment.