Authority Suspends Permit, Seeks Fines After Chemical Spill

Posted: November 22, 1990

A Whitemarsh firm has been ordered to stop discharging industrial

wastewater into Conshohocken's sewer system after a 200-gallon spill of a

wastewater treatment chemical earlier this month.

The Borough of Conshohocken Authority, which operates the borough's sewer system, suspended Reilly-Whiteman Inc.'s permit to discharge industrial waste after discovering the spill at the operation.

The authority is seeking fines of $1,000 for each day Reilly-Whiteman violated the sewer-use ordinance, as well as compensation for other costs.

The malfunction of a device on a collection tank that controls the discharge of wastewater into the sewer system caused the overflow of ''unacceptable" industrial wastewater into the sewer lines, according to the authority.

The spill allowed Polymer Floc, a white, paste-like substance used to pre- treat wastewater, to flow into the sewer system, said Marian Mitchell, an environmental inspector with the authority.

Polymer Floc, which is used to coagulate oils and organic materials in

wastewater, is skimmed off the surface of the water and hauled away for proper disposal, Mitchell said. The fact that other material sticks to the chemical makes it potentially harmful, Mitchell said.

The sewer authority was able to safely handle the discharge that reached the plant. However, the buildup of the material within the sewer lines will need extensive work to be completely cleaned, according to Mitchell.

"As of now, their permit is suspended," Mitchell said. "We expect this facility to make sure this will be corrected. We are not shutting down their business; we are only telling them to stop the discharge."

Reilly-Whiteman's operations manager Larry Biss did not return repeated phone calls. A company employee said that only Biss could comment on the matter and that he was unavailable.

Reilly-Whiteman, 801 Washington St., manufactures metal, leather-tanning and textile oils and paper-processing chemicals.

The spill was discovered Nov. 7 while the authority was inspecting the sewer line alongside the Reilly-Whiteman property.

"We opened up the manhole, and there was about six inches of a white, paste-like substance," Mitchell said.

The authority ordered Reilly-Whiteman to pump out the manhole, correct the situation and clean up all of the spill within 24 hours.

When the situation was not corrected within two days, the authority suspended the company's sewer permit and ordered it to stop the discharge of industrial wastewater.

The day after the spill was discovered, Conshohocken Borough Councilman Charles F. Kelly received a complaint of a foul odor around the sewer plant. Kelly and Council President John Bocella investigated the matter.

"Boy, the smell was so bad, it would have knocked you dead," Kelly said.

The odor was described by some witnesses as resembling mineral oil. The manhole near Reilly-Whiteman contained a similar odor, according to Mitchell.

"Whether there is a connection between the odor in the sewer and the complaint, it is not clear," Mitchell said.

Reilly-Whiteman exceeded its allowable wastewater discharge, failed to ''factually report" the characteristics of the discharge, and failed to report changes in its wastewater operations, the authority said.

Along with the fines, the authority will seek compensation for its investigation of the incident and the cost of the cleanup of the sewer lines, Mitchell said.

"We know for a fact for at least two days, it wasn't cleaned up," Mitchell said. "We've given them too much leeway already. As many times as it takes to have the line cleared out, they will have to pay for it."

The authority is still consulting its lawyers and a specific fine has yet to be reached, Mitchell said.

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