- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) One gallon of hazardous solvent from Kentucky is creating a huge mess for local waste officials.
The quagmire could take three years and perhaps millions of dollars to settle, even though the solvent has been vaporized into ashes and officials say it is not a threat to human health or the environment.
So far this year, the Southeastern Public Service Authority has had to hire outside lawyers, petition the federal government for relief, remove 350 tons of soil tainted by the solvent, build a mini-landfill to hold the suspect dirt and cordon off part of its sanitary landfill in Suffolk all because the material arrived in Hampton Roads mistakenly marked as nonhazardous.
"It's been an incredible experience, I'll say that," said Dick Cheliras, SPSA's director of environmental and safety management. "And it's not over yet."
Activists say the episode shows the dangers of importing garbage.
"It's only a matter of time before these things happen," said Jim Sharp, director of Campaign Virginia, a group trying to curb waste shipments to the state.
It all began in January at an aluminum plant in Kentucky, the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk reported yesterday. The newspaper cited case records and officials in three states.
Plant workers used the solvent methyl ethyl keton, which can cause health effects with prolonged exposure, as part of their daily routine. Rags, paint rollers and protective gear that came in contact with the flammable chemical were put in a barrel, marked as hazardous waste and sent to a processing center in Ohio.
There, a staffer mistakenly mixed 14 drums of MEK-tainted wastes with a batch of nonhazardous materials. The load, now labeled nonhazardous and including about one gallon of liquid chemical, was sent to South Carolina, repackaged and shipped to Portsmouth.
The regional waste authority received what it thought was benign waste on Feb. 22 and incinerated the contents. Over the next five days, the ash was spread atop the regional landfill in Suffolk.
On Feb. 27, Mr. Cheliras received a call from a waste contractor, informing him that the South Carolina shipment included hazardous wastes and that anything that came in contact with them also would be considered hazardous wastes.
"I immediately called the landfill and told them to shut things down," Mr. Cheliras said.
In all, the single gallon of MEK contaminated about 860 tons of dirt and ash.
The regional authority is petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare the waste safe. That would allow it to reopen a section of its landfill and to use 350 tons of MEK-tainted ash, recently moved to a remote section.
If the petition is rejected, the authority likely would have to remove and treat all MEK-related dirt like hazardous waste a project that could cost more than $3 million.

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