Jefferson Hills facility denies hazmat leak
The CEO of a Jefferson Hills firm inundated by Peters Creek said his facility has problems, but not the sort widely reported on Wednesday.
“Allegheny County HAZMAT said there were no environmental emissions from our facility,” Clark Testing's Paul Heffernan said. “They gave us a clean bill of health.”
That ironically is not the case for Water and Fire Restoration, one of Clark's tenants, which normally would work on restoring flooded properties but was flooded itself.
“We don't have the equipment to do the work anymore because we lost it through the flood,” Water and Fire's Terry Breault said. “It took all my vehicles, all my files and computers, all my power tools.”
Several other homes and businesses were flooded in Jefferson Hills, where Mayor Michael Green declared a state of emergency.
“Hundreds have contacted me,” Breault said. “Our phone system was lost for 24 hours.”
Nearly two inches of rain were recorded at Allegheny County Airport before Peters Creek overflowed its banks.
“The water was so forceful that it bent a pedestrian bridge over Peters Creek,” Heffernan said.
It also prompted calls for emergency crews.
“There was a hazardous materials incident in Jefferson Hills borough when flooding caused several 55-gallon drums and chemical containers to float out of their drum/container housing at Clark,” county spokeswoman Amie Downs said.
Heffernan disputed that.
“There were no barrels that even floated,” Heffernan said. “We moved all barrels up to higher ground. I challenge anybody to come in here and tell me if there was any emission of hazardous materials. I welcome it.”
He said problems occurred because of a park-and-ride facility and a sewage treatment plant.
“They hosed our people because of the water that was contaminated from upstream,” Heffernan said.
The CEO said his firm takes steps to prevent problems.
“I called the local fire chief just to make sure that we are in compliance,” Heffernan said. “We get audited regularly by various agencies. We have the Indiana University of Pennsylvania come in and do (Occupational Safety and Health Administration-style) audits. We go to great lengths to make sure we have a clean and safe work environment at Clark Testing.”
A damage estimate has not been determined, but Heffernan said two buildings were flooded extensively, one with space rented to Breault.
“We had primarily just flood damage in a couple of our buildings,” Heffernan said. “We're just washing out the mud and the residue.”
Most of Clark's 70-person local workforce, part of approximately 150 worldwide, can continue normal jobs upstairs from the flooded facilities.
“We have laboratories on the second floor,” Heffernan said, “and 20 people working on restoration.”
But that's not the case for Breault, who has 23 employees, including eight to 10 who were there as the floodwaters arrived around midday on Wednesday.
“We're in limbo right now,” Breault said. “We're trying to see what we can do to piece things back together.”
It is the second “100-year flood” in 10 years for the Peters Creek plain, and flood insurance isn't available.
“We're in a flood zone and cannot get flood insurance,” Heffernan said.
Heffernan isn't pleased with the development around him, including new housing in need of storm sewers and the Mon/Fayette Expressway.
“They knocked all the trees down,” the Clark CEO said. “They're draining runs off the expressway and into Peters Creek. It takes a lot of time for that water to catch up before a flood occurs.”
Heffernan also is critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “showing up after the fact,” adding, “their mission is to help avoid these types of floods.”
The Clark CEO is proud of his employees and how they reacted “in terms of moving material and shutting down electrical materials.” He said the Clark management was in West Virginia for meetings when the first flood occurred.
Clark officials were back in time for a second wave of storms on Wednesday but “it missed us. It went north of our facility,” Heffernan said.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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