EPD finds environmental threat at biodiesel plant

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News 12 at 11, August 22, 2007

AUGUSTA, GA-- An environmental threat was found at the site of Tuesday's (August 21) deadly explosion at an Augusta biodiesel plant. Now, a major cleanup operation is underway and the owner has a lot to say about it.

A deadly explosion at the Farmers and Truckers Biodiesel manufacturing plant Tuesday killed 35-year-old Jason Karstedt of Augusta. He was working as a contracted welder at the plant. At the time of the explosion, he was welding a flow meter to a gas tank. OSHA is now inspecting the plant to find out what caused the explosion. An autopsy will be done on Karstedt's body tomorrow.

Now, another problem for the plant. Georgia Environmental Protection Division has ordered Farmers and Truckers Biodiesel to clean up its act after finding an environmental threat on the property.

As much as 500 gallons of oil products was found in ditches and runoff. It's not hazardous to you, but the EPD says it's dangerous for the environment.

Chuck Pardue, co-owner of Farmers and Truckers Biodiesel, says the product spill was an accident, but the EPD says they've found evidence that some of it is there intentionally.

Environmental clean up crews were on hand at the site Wednesday, vacuuming hundreds of gallons of oil product out of the ground as ordered by Georgia's EPD. The EPD says the oil product contains soybean oil, chicken fat, sodium methalate, and methanol, and the mixture was found in runoff and in a ditch on International Paper's property, coming from the plant.

Jeff Darley with the EPD says there were two concerns at the site. The first, alleged pumping of oil products into a ditch. The second, a previous oil spill that was not cleaned up. The ditch in question runs from the far side of the plant, snakes around the back, and dumps out onto International Paper's property.

HEPACO crews have spent two days so far cleaning at both sites.

The EPD says part of the spill seems to be there unintentionally, but another part appears to be intentional.

Pardue says that's not true. "We don't want to have any spills, because basically that's valuable product and we don't want that to go anywhere. So if there have been any spills, it's been purely accidental."

Pardue maintains most of the product spilled was chicken fat mixed with processed diesel fuel, and he says everything that was spilled is biodegradable. But the EPD says all unnatural products pose a threat to the environment.

"I do not believe it was a threat to the environment, so I would respectfully disagree with that because it is all biodegradable, but as he (Darley) explained, even biodegradable products need to be cleaned up, and we're cleaning it up," Pardue said.

EPD says they don't know yet what penalties the plant may face because right now they are just focusing on the cleanup. But Darley says Pardue's company violated two Georgia Environmental Acts: the Solid Waste Management Act, which carries a maximum penalty of $25,000 a day, and the Water Quality Control Act, which has a maximum penalty of $50,000 a day.

HEPACO crews are expected to finish cleaning tomorrow (August 23).

No word on when OSHA and the EPD plan to complete their investigations. The Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office also ordered the plant to cease all manufacturing operations Wednesday (August 22) after finding the plant failed to file for a permit needed to open for business. Pardue says the permit was filed and the company is looking into the matter.

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