Polar Environmental Report: Steam Release Incident 'Not a Threat'
Ferndale company releases a report outlining results of an investigation into the smelly Dec. 2 incident and says new actions have been taken to prevent further problems.
The Dec. 2 steam release that concerned hundreds of area residents was “not a threat to the health of the public” and should not happen again with new safeguards put in place, according to a recently released report from Polar Environmental Service Corp. in Ferndale.
The report, prepared by environmental safety consulting firm Hands and Associates, outlines results from an investigation into the incident and highlights corrective actions the company has taken to ensure it doesn't happen again.
"I'm continuing to seek out ways to improve our performance," said Robert Crawford, president of Polar Environmental. "I take what we do very seriously over here."
The incident occurred after an employee at the facility, which handles the disposal and recycling of nonhazardous waste oil and wastewater, forgot to turn off the heat in a tank that was heating oil, and the result was an odor that spread through north Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Berkley and Royal Oak.
Chris Ethridge, environmental manager with the DEQ's air quality division, said last month that testing done by the state could not address exactly what type of emissions were released because they were not on site to measure it.
“That would have required us to sample the emissions that come off the tanks,” he said. “It's very difficult to say exactly what people were exposed to.”
Potential emissions studied
According to the Polar report, samples of liquid from the tank that supplied the tank that overheated were collected and analyzed by an independent, accredited laboratory to determine the characteristics of the release.
The lab “conducted a simulation of the overheating event” and found that the emissions generated were “mostly water vapor with a presence of odor causing sulfur compounds that were responsible for the odors noted during the event.”
“It's nonhazardous,” Crawford said. “It's a smelly nuisance and we're taking steps to continue to try and improve and spend additional money to implement some processes and procedures to hopefully not have this problem occur.”
Crawford says the company preserves oil and water, “which are precious resources,” but he understands why residents were concerned.
“There's a lot of misconception to what we do over here. And as a father and grandfather, I understand everybody's concern, I really do,” he said.
Permit application process continues
Following the incident, the DEQ cited Polar and notified the company that it would need to apply for a permit. Polar had been operating under an exemption, Ethridge said, but it now needs a permit “based on the fact that they overheated some of this oil and could no longer meet criteria for that exemption.”
In addition to setting emission limits, the permit will help the DEQ ensure compliance at the facility, he said. The review process is ongoing.
“We're still in negotiations with the company right now,” he said. “We're definitely making headway.”
Ethridge said Monday that he was not familiar with the report from Polar and could not comment on the testing it completed. He said the DEQ's testing did not try to simulate the situation.
“There's just too many parameters there that it would be impossible to try to replicate something like that,” he said.
Corrective actions outlined
Included in the report is a list of corrective actions that Polar has taken in response to the incident, including new forms and logs to track the heating status of tanks, new signage related to tank heating status and steam status indicator flags for each oily water treatment tank.
The report states that the employee who left work before turning off the heat has been terminated and other employees have received additional training. Pressure valves are being considered for the tanks and the possibility of a steam valve monitoring system using real-time video cameras is being evaluated.
Pleasant Ridge resident Brian Wahl, who lives just north of Woodward Heights not far from Polar, said he would like to see Polar doing more to inform the surrounding residents about the incident and the changes it has made to prevent future occurrences.
“Overall, I am not satisfied with the response from Polar Environmental,” he said. “I think that they need to make further outreach to the affected communities, primarily Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge.”
Public hearing may be held
As part of the permit process, Ethridge said residents would eventually have the opportunity to request a public hearing before a permit is granted, and that the hearing would take place in Ferndale.
Crawford said he would be present at the hearing. In the meantime, he said he encourages residents to contact the company to learn more about it and said a group of residents could even schedule a tour.