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Neville Chemical may face $13M fine

| Thursday, Nov. 6, 2003, 12:00 p.m.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is seeking a $13 million fine from a Neville Island chemical company for failing to stop oil from leaching into the Ohio River.

The department, which filed a complaint Monday with the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, says Neville Chemical Co. violated clean-water laws.

"It's a shot across the bow after 20 years of orders and enforcement actions and court decrees trying to get Neville (Chemical) to follow the law, to send a signal that we really mean it this time, guys," said DEP Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty. "You really need to come to the table, and you really need to clean up your act."

The oil has been seeping into the Ohio River since the spring of 2002, leaving a filmy sheen on the water. It comes from under the plant, where it has collected from spills and leaks since the company began 78 years ago.

Neville Chemical uses oil to manufacture hydrocarbon resins. The oil is laced with toxins from the chemical manufacturing process and is classified as hazardous waste.

Thomas McKnight, chief operating officer of Neville Chemical, said the company submitted a comprehensive cleanup plan to state regulators last week. He estimated it would cost $1 million to $2 million to implement.

He said state officials refused to consider it and instead told Neville Chemical to agree to the state's own plan and pay $2 million in fines.

McKnight said the DEP caused the oil slick when it ordered Neville Chemical to shut down a well used to draw cooling water. The well also pumped oil out of the ground.

McKnight said the company has cooperated with the state by restarting the well and sinking 10 others to collect the oil and by placing booms in the river to catch whatever escapes. Although no more oil is leaking from the plant, he said, some that remains on the riverbank can be removed only by using biological agents.

Neville Chemical has 30 days to respond to the Environmental Hearing Board, a five-judge panel appointed by the governor to hear environmental cases and appeals.

Both sides told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last month that they had worked out a tentative settlement on the long-term issue of how to remediate the company's 67-acre site.

McGinty said the agency is being reasonable in asking only that Neville Chemical keep the contaminated oil from spreading, rather than demanding that the company excavate and clean the entire property.

"The whole point is, we want to see a fully functioning, fully operating chemical plant there," McGinty said. "We want to keep the jobs there. We just can't have it emitting dangerous pollutants into the neighborhood."

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