Chemical dumped, leaks into Washington Township creek

Liz Hayes
| Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 10:38 a.m.

Employees of a Washington Township business were perplexed Thursday morning when they noticed a small Pine Run tributary near their North Washington Road parking lot had turned milky white.

“Maybe there's an underground cow,” quipped Carl Evankovich, a maintenance employee for Composidie Inc.

But the substance, which was spilling from a pipe that drains stormwater from behind the business and beneath Route 380, smelled like latex paint — and it kept coming.

Scott Slagle, Washington Township's police chief and emergency management coordinator, said a company called Modified Concrete Suppliers dumped about 800 gallons of a concrete additive on its property, which is across Route 380 and uphill from Composidie.

“At first, they denied any discharge,” Slagle said of Modified Concrete.

But after repeated questioning, Slagle said, employees eventually admitted they had dumped several barrels of diluted styrene-butadiene polymer, a latex sealant used in concrete.

John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the chemical, also called Styrofan, poses no threat to people.

He said there had been no sign a of fish kill as of Thursday afternoon; department officials were continuing to monitor the water quality and cleanup.

“We're pretty much just watching and doing our best to make sure no more of the product gets into the stream,” he said.

Poister said the spill was affecting about a two-mile stretch of Pine Run.

At noon, the creek water still appeared milky in the area of Kunkle Park. The color seemed to have diminished by the time Pine Run flowed under Yockey Road about a half-mile downstream.

Poister said Modified Concrete likely will face DEP citations for violating the Clean Water Act.

“Washing it down a storm drain is not what we would recommend in the best of circumstances,” Poister said.

Slagle said employees told him they had cleaned out the inside of their tanker trucks and flushed the remaining mix of water and Styrofan into storage barrels, which then were dumped on their property.

Al Kenz, a Modified Concrete employee overseeing the cleanup, would not comment on how the spill occurred.

“We're trying to get this thing contained,” Kenz said.

“We had a latex wastewater spill,” said Brent R. Vautaw, Modified Concrete's Indianapolis-based president. “We are still investigating how it happened.”

Vautaw said the latex in its original state would be made of 52 percent water. Since the spilled product was wastewater, he said it would be even more diluted.

The company mixes the latex with concrete and uses it for bridge-deck rehabilitation, Vautaw said.

Cleanup efforts

At first, Washington Township firefighters and Composidie employees tried to contain the chemical by collecting it from a drainage pipe and pouring it into 55-gallon drums, according to Assistant Fire Chief Clayton Murphy.

But when they quickly filled four drums and a large plastic garbage can, it became apparent their efforts weren't making a dent.

“It's been steadily flowing,” Murphy said about 10:30 a.m., about three hours after the spill was discovered.

Modified Concrete brought two tanker trucks and about 10 employees began pumping the contaminated water into the trucks from the discharge pipe and another spot where it appeared to be leaching into the stream.

Several truckloads of dirt were dumped just upstream of the discharge to form a dam. The stream water then was diverted around the spill using more pumps and hoses.

Slagle said McCutcheon Enterprises was called to oversee the cleanup. Also on scene were Westmoreland County's Hazardous Materials Response Team and Dan Stevens from the county's Department of Emergency Management.

Shortly before 7:30 p.m. Thursday, cleanup crews were still at the site.

Slagle said the state Fish and Boat Commission also was contacted; commission representatives could not be reached for comment.

Dave Abel, a vice president at tool-and-die manufacturer Composidie, said the incident didn't disrupt business at the plant.

He said there never was any concern Composidie's operation caused the leak: “We don't have anything hazardous, especially in that quantity.”

Able said he'd never seen anything similar happen to the creek, but Slagle said it was reported to him on Thursday that people had seen a milky substance in the water before.

“Nothing of this magnitude, though,” he said.

Vautaw said Modified Concrete hasn't had previous spills.

The DEP's Poister said he was unaware of any previous violations by Modified Concrete: “It's not a familiar name to me.”

The DEP also was investigating why a creek in Cecil, Washington County, had turned an unnatural shade of blue on Wednesday.

Officials discovered a new township employee had dumped about a half-gallon of blue paint into a drain while washing brushes after painting blue handicap parking spaces.

“Certainly, the idea that you can clean something and wash it into a storm sewer will be an area we'll be talking to (Modified Concrete) about,” Poister said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680.

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