- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) — Nearly 22 years after an arsonist set fire to millions of tires in Frederick County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finished cleaning up the site and proposed removing it from the Superfund priority list.

The site will be deleted on Sept. 30 unless the EPA receives objections by the end of this month.

“It’s a big milestone,” EPA project manager Andy Palestini said.

The $11.8 million cost of the cleanup was covered by the defunct Superfund, which was supplemented by a tax on chemical companies. Similar cleanup efforts today are covered by the EPA’s general fund.

The massive tire dump on the Paul Rhinehart farm was set ablaze Oct. 31, 1983, creating a plume of smoke 4,500 feet tall that could be seen for miles. The fire burned for nine months, destroying 5 million to 7 million tires.

The EPA promptly named the farm a Superfund site, making the cleanup a top priority for the federal agency.

Before the fire burned out, 840,000 gallons of runoff containing 690,000 gallons of oil had to be pumped from the site.

Mr. Palestini said subsequent concerns were raised that contaminants such as arsenic, benzene, copper, iron and zinc would seep into nearby Massey Run and eventually reach the Potomac River.

Before the EPA recently cleared the four-acre site, officials found traces of zinc in Massey Run, but fishing should be fine, Mr. Palestini said this week.

“Our biggest concern initially was the environmental damage,” Mr. Palestini said. “The contaminants, oil getting down into the creek and eventually into the Potomac.”

Cleanup crews built two ponds to prevent the oily residue from washing away. They lined the slopes of the site with a concretelike substance that prevented runoff.

Pipes and drains were installed to gather water for treatment. The treatment facility removed contaminants from more than 75 million gallons of water.

The Rhinehart farm now has been cleared for use. Paul Rhinehart died in 1997, and his wife, Alma, died in 2002. The property is being managed by the Rhineharts’ estate.

In December 1987, Melvin Russell Jenkins pleaded guilty to setting the fire and later was sentenced to 110 years in prison for arson and other unrelated offenses, including murder.

Anyone who wants to comment on the EPA’s proposal to retire the Rhinehart Tire Fire Dump Superfund Site from its National Priority List may write to Dave Polish, U.S. EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, 1650 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19103.

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