Fernald barrels leaking

FERMCO admits report in error


BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The company hired to clean up Fernald now admits it has found leaking barrels of toxic wastes on the site this year, contradicting a report it made to the U.S. Department of Energy two weeks ago.

A March 4 exclusive Enquirer article revealed that scores of barrels filled with toxic waste had sprung leaks at the site since Jan. 1 and that workers there were concerned that the problem was endangering their safety. Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO) officials issued a press release saying the story was ''false'' and ''FERMCO finds these allegations have no substance.''

FERMCO officials told the Energy Department two weeks ago that since Jan. 1 workers had not found any leaking barrels among the thousands of barrels stored in an area called the Plant 1 pad, said Gary Stegner, the Energy Department's spokesman at Fernald.

But Monday, Mr. Stegner said, ''We now find out that between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15, FERMCO had actually handled about 80 leaky drums and that number will grow when we find out the additional number since Feb. 15.''

Mr. Stegner said Monday he wanted the public to know that The Enquirer's information was accurate. ''FERMCO gave us wrong information and we want to set the record straight.''

''The Enquirer was right and (FERMCO) was wrong, and I can tell you Jack Craig (the Energy Department's Fernald area supervisor) is not happy that we were supplied with wrong information by them,'' he added.

FERMCO also reported to the Energy Department that there were only 33 leaky drums found throughout 1995. Mr. Stegner said that claim is now being investigated by the Energy Department.

Mr. Stegner said FERMCO officials explained their mistake by saying someone had looked only at written reports by FERMCO assistant emergency duty officers, who are responsible for logging leak reports. ''There were other records they apparently didn't look at that contained the right numbers.''

FERMCO spokeswoman Sue Walpole confirmed Monday that the company had made a mistake.

Asked how the error had occurred, Ms. Walpole said, ''We were wrong. There was a report that was looked at that had the (wrong) numbers.'' Ms. Walpole said FERMCO workers were attempting to determine how many more leaky barrels have been discovered since Feb. 15.

''Hopefully we'll have that number sometime tomorrow or very soon,'' she added.

In The Enquirer's March 4 story, 12 drivers assigned to move leaky barrels said that FERMCO, in a cost-savings move, had changed its policy of quickly removing the leaky barrels to a ''repacking area'' by refusing to assign and to pay them to work weekends to handle the removals.

The drivers reported that they would walk into leaky messes on Monday when they reported to work and then were forced to move the damaged barrels to the repacking area where the waste is ''repacked'' into another drum and then returned to the Plant 1 pad storage area.

Published March 12, 1996.