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Poor housekeeping

DEP labeled this June 2016 photo from outside the IEI warehouse in Parkersburg as "bad housekeeping," a problem agency inspectors found repeatedly at the site prior to the ongoing fire.

Five days after a massive fire began in a plastics warehouse in Parkersburg, West Virginia regulators on Thursday ordered the owner of the operation to identify what products stored there were burning.

The state Department of Environmental Protection also ordered Intercontinental Export Import Inc. to submit a plan “for providing proof of proper disposal” of the materials that burned at the warehouse, located in the former Ames True Temper tool factory, south of downtown Parkersburg. It also ordered the company to provide “detailed inventories” of material stored “at all other sites in West Virginia” that are owned by IEI and any associated companies.

The DEP issued a 27-page order and announced the move with a news release sent to the media by Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Communications Director Lawrence Messina, who has said he is fielding all media inquiries for state and local agencies regarding the fire, which began sometime after midnight Saturday and has continued to burn since then.

The DEP order notes that IEI operates “large warehouses and recycling facilities ... in and around Parkersburg.” State officials have mentioned that there might be up to five such facilities, but it appears that only two of them have been publicly identified by authorities: The Parkersburg site that burned and another one, located in nearby Washington Bottom, that operates under a sister company called Polymer Alliance Resources.

On a website, a company related to IEI, Green Sustainable Solutions LLC, lists six warehouses in the Parkersburg area, along with one each in Florence, South Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia.

“GSS saves their clients millions of dollars and keeps raw materials out of landfills,” the website says. “In addition to these services, the company operates a national trucking, manufacturing, and distribution network supported by over 2.5M square feet of manufacturing, warehousing, and research/development space. With so many resources and 50+ years of experience, GSS can easily handle the step by step details of their programs to ensure volume economics, technology in application, and exacting quality. Strategically located corporate resources and services provide daily support to 70 percent of the US manufacturing base, as well as parts of Asia and Europe.”

State and local officials have said they have been trying to identify what was stored in the warehouse that burned in Parkersburg. Officials said a search of state records revealed that no inventories of those materials had been filed under the state and federal chemical right-to-know law that requires such disclosures for certain chemicals if stored in certain amounts.

The DEP order issued Thursday said IEI’s warehouses “are known to contain several polymer materials in the form of pellets, flakes, strand, beads, plop, dust, granules, and resins.” The DuPont Co., which, for years, has operated a large chemical-making plant in Washington, has said it sold material to IEI and that that material was stored in the warehouse that burned. A DEP permit for that warehouse says the “nature of business” for the facility is “warehousing of polymers before shipment overseas.”

The DEP’s order tells IEI that it must submit the inventory of what burned in the Parkersburg warehouse “immediately.” Details about proper disposal of the burned material and about inventories of the company’s other warehouses are due within 10 days, the DEP order states.

The order notes four in-person inspections of the two warehouses combined, dating back to June 2016, and five reviews by the DEP of records about the facilities. Each of those inspections and reviews uncovered violations of the company’s water pollution permits.

DEP inspectors found violations at the Parkersburg warehouse on at least two other instances, in May 2011 and August 2012, according to agency records. Even before that, in 2008, two local volunteer firefighters in Wood County complained to the state fire marshal that they had “extreme concerns” about a major fire at IEI warehouses.

In previous settlements with IEI in 2014 and 2015 concerning the Parkersburg and Washington warehouses, the DEP agreed to allow the majority of the fines issued — nearly $75,000 out of nearly $100,000 in penalties — to be “held in abeyance” assuming the company followed through on submitting required monthly water pollution reports to the agency. In one of those instances, the DEP, in August, sent IEI a letter demanding that the company pay more than $60,000 in fines that had been “held in abeyance” after it did not submit the pollution reports for one of the facilities.

DEP records show that the Washington warehouse still does not have an approved water pollution permit from the agency. DEP officials ordered the company to obtain one in June 2011.

The new DEP order states that, on Oct. 21 — the day the fire began — DEP personnel reviewed records and determined that a proposed permit modification, to add the second warehouse to the water pollution permit for the Parkersburg warehouse, “had not been issued.”

The DEP said the modification application had been resubmitted to the agency on Sept. 11, 2017, in response to questions from DEP permit reviewers. “However, the application remains administratively incomplete,” the new DEP order says.

The order requires the company to “submit any remaining information” the DEP requests for the permit revision within 30 days.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702, or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

Environment Reporter

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