When West Virginia environmental inspectors visited the Intercontinental Export Import warehouse in Parkersburg earlier this year, they found violations that indicated continued problems at a facility that two local volunteer firefighters had warned nearly a decade before could be at risk of a major fire, Department of Environmental Protection records showed Wednesday.
DEP staffers who inspected the warehouse in February concluded that the site’s “general housekeeping” was “unsatisfactory” and its operations and maintenance, as well as its materials storage, were “marginal.”
The inspectors from the DEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management said, “waste and pellets were still scattered around the site,” a diesel spill had not been fully cleaned up and storage drums left outside were deteriorating. The company, known as IEI, had continued water pollution violations and had not submitted required monthly progress reports to the DEP, the agency records show.
“The site was improved from the last inspection, but some further work is still needed to remove remaining waste (wood, plastic, misc.) on the property,” said the Feb. 6, 2017, report from DEP Inspector Glennda Parsons.
The DEP records provide more evidence that the IEI warehouse — site of a major industrial fire that’s been burning since Saturday — had not come into full compliance with state rules since an earlier DEP enforcement settlement, in which agency officials had agreed that most of an $80,000 fine could be “held in abeyance” by the company as long as the firm began filing required water pollution discharge reports with the state in a timely fashion.
While the DEP was inspecting the facility to determine its compliance with water pollution rules, rather than fire safety standards, the agency’s inspection reports provide a glimpse of the conditions at the warehouse in the months and years before the fire.
State officials and Wood County representatives indicated Wednesday that they believe they are making progress getting the fire out, and that air quality sampling shows levels of pollutants from the blaze also were on the decline. But officials also said they still haven’t been able to piece together a complete and accurate list of the materials that were in the warehouse at the time of the fire.
“I think all parties recognize this is a key question that county officials and state officials have been working to answer,” said Lawrence Messina, communications director for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. “We just hope people will bear with us as we drill down to figure out what we’re dealing with.”
A DuPont Co. spokesman has said DuPont “does not have any direct affiliation with the warehouse” but that “the warehouse was storing plastic materials, some of which were purchased from DuPont” by IEI.
Meanwhile, representatives of the WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center said the hospital treated 50 to 60 patients in its emergency room for fire-related symptoms since Saturday. Patients complained of respiratory issues, headaches, sore throat, eye irritation, coughing and shortness of breath, according to spokesman Roger Lockhart. Many had existing respiratory conditions. None were admitted.
“Saturday wasn’t bad. We didn’t really get very many,” said Susan Abdella, Camden Clark’s director of emergency services. “The plume was high and blowing away. Because the stuff was so high, we didn’t really get a lot of effect from it. Then, when the weather shifted and the rain came, it drove all that smoke to the ground and it irritated people more acutely and more quickly.”
Jennifer Offenberger, a spokeswoman for Marietta Memorial Hospital, said the hospital’s Belpre, Ohio, emergency department also saw more patients than usual with headaches, dizziness, sore throat and shortness of breath. Offenberger said the hospital wasn’t specifically tracking the numbers, but she estimated that 20 additional patients were seen.
The DEP records obtained Wednesday also raised new questions about a nearby chemical-product warehouse operated by an IEI sister company called Polymer Alliance Services. Known as the “White Dove” facility, this warehouse in Washington was, along with the Parkersburg warehouse, targeted by two local firefighters who warned in 2008 that a major fire at one of the operations was a serious threat.
DEP inspectors visited the White Dove facility in August 2012 and rated its housekeeping, operation and maintenance as “marginal.” DEP officials reached a settlement with Polymer Alliance Services in a consent order dated July 2014.
Under that consent order, Polymer Alliance Services was to pay a fine of $17,880, but the DEP agreed, as it had with the Parkersburg warehouse, that most of that money — $13,410 — would be “held in abeyance,” pending the company filing water pollution discharge reports on time with the DEP.
A later DEP inspection, in July 2016, found no violations at the Polymer Alliance Services operation.
“You and your staff are to be commended for your commitment to proper operation and maintenance of your treatment facility,” a DEP supervisor wrote in a letter to Polymer Alliance Services.
But then, in July 2017, the DEP inspected the site again and issued a notice of violation that said the company failed to submit its pollution discharge reports for all of 2016 and the first half of 2017.
In August, the DEP had ordered IEI to pay the remaining $60,000 in fines for violations at the Parkersburg warehouse, after the company did not file its water pollution reports in a timely fashion. The DEP already had warned the company it had missed payments on the earlier, $20,000 portion of its fines that were not being held in abeyance.