The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Wednesday, November 29, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Plant's missing toxic waste found buried in New York
A coding error is to blame for 540 gallons of PCBs not being sent to Texas for incineration.

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

A shipping company that lost about 540 gallons of toxic waste from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in September now indicates the material was mistakenly buried in a New York landfill.

Waste brokerage firm Clean Harbor Environmental Services sent a letter admitting a coding problem that caused the routing error, said Greg Cook, spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs, lead environmental contractor for the Department of Energy.

The liquid, containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), was lost en route to incineration in Port Arthur, Texas, after leaving the plant Sept. 11 in 180 large, discarded electrical capacitors. The capacitors were buried Sept. 22 in a Model City, N.Y., hazardous waste landfill, but Clean Harbor lost track of the liquid.

"They've determined they did not drain the liquid off and there's absolutely no indication that the landfill drained it off, either," Cook said. "We believe the liquid was buried with the capacitors."

He said state and federal environmental regulators, who are tracking the problem, will have the final say if the capacitors — buried deep in the landfill — should be dug up or left alone. Federal law requires that liquid PCBs be incinerated rather than buried, but excavation could cause the waste to move, posing more trouble, Cook said.

A suspected carcinogen, PCBs are harmful particularly if ingested, and are known to build up in fatty tissue.

Cook said the letter, received since he disclosed the missing PCBs last week, admits the firm used the wrong codes on the last two legs of the shipment. That resulted in shipping manifests that did not list liquid PCBs, he said.

Cook said the shipment stopped in Cincinnati and Bristol, Conn., before arriving in New York. The coding was correct when the waste left Paducah, he said.

Asked if the letter clears Bechtel Jacobs of fault, Cook said, "That's probably a question for the attorneys. Practically speaking, I would say so."

Bechtel Jacobs learned of the trouble two weeks ago when WESKEM, its waste-handling subcontractor, said it had been unable to track the shipment. In late October, WESKEM received certification from the New York landfill operator, CWM Chemical Services, that the capacitors had been buried. Cook said WESKEM suspected a problem because CWM is not on Bechtel Jacobs’ regular list of approved disposal sites.

Until recently, Clean Harbor, which has facilities to drain and ship liquid PCBs, had not ruled out mistakenly disposing of the waste itself, Cook said.