Helena Chemical Co. investigated for possible toxic chemicals stored in Forward warehouse

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

Federal and municipal officials are investigating a business that might have stored toxic chemicals in a Butler County warehouse in amounts several times what's legally allowed, sickening workers at other businesses that share the building.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Forward officials are investigating Helena Chemical Co.'s storage site on Evans City Road, officials said on Wednesday. They declined to give details. An operations manager at Helena's regional office in New Jersey said he could not comment.

The chemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides, caused eye and respiratory problems for workers from other companies that use the building, said Pasquale Verona, who owns one of the companies. A consultant for the building's owner reported seeing smoke come out of Helena's offices and toward the other offices, according to documents Verona sent on Monday in a complaint to OSHA.

“The fact is (there's) all this damning evidence,” said Verona, 77, of Houston in Washington County. He is the CEO of Wiz Biz Solutions Inc., which operates out of the building. “I and other people in this building have been damaged, and they're just saying forget about that.”

Verona's son Michael owns Marcellus Gasfield Services LLC, which bought the building last year, Pasquale Verona said. Father and son are business partners, and about 135 of their employees are based in the building. Helena is a tenant.

Helena and Marcellus Gasfield Services are locked in litigation that started when Michael Verona's company told Helena to clean up its chemicals, Pasquale Verona said. Many of the documents submitted to OSHA surfaced as part of that lawsuit.

The township's construction code official intervened in the fall, sending orders to both companies. The officer, G. Michael Grill, wanted Helena to get evidence from a fire safety expert on the quantity and safety of chemicals it stored on site, he said. Lawyers for both companies and the township are working out a plan to monitor the chemicals stored there, he said.

“They did respond to (the order), but possibly not to everyone's satisfaction,” Grill said, adding that a resolution could come any day.

According to documents Pasquale Verona obtained via the lawsuit, Helena's consultant, Code Consultants Inc., found the company was storing more than what state building code allows in typical warehouses for several types of chemicals. That included more than 20 times the limit for toxic solids, more than six times the limit for highly toxic noncombustible liquids and more than five times the limit for highly toxic, corrosive solids, the documents said.

Helena might draw fines or a court order, Grill said.

The company shipped hundreds of thousands of pounds of chemicals on Dec. 4 to try to come into compliance with several of the limits, according to the documents.

Helena, headquartered outside of Memphis, has more than 3,000 employees working at more than 350 sites. It has paid $21,862.50 in fines for nine serious workplace safety violations since 2003, according to OSHA records. Those included three deaths.

Forward Solicitor Thomas John May declined to comment.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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