Ohio EPA: Fernald inspection rules violated

DOE, FERMCO held accountable for missing records

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The U.S. Department of Energy and the company managing the cleanup at Fernald violated state radioactive and hazardous waste inspection rules and must correct the violations immediately, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ordered Friday.

Ohio EPA investigators found that the Energy Department and Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO) failed to ensure records were maintained that would have shown whether mandatory safety inspections were conducted between July 1, 1995 and Feb. 16.

Graham E. Mitchell, chief of the Office of Federal Oversight for the Ohio EPA, said since approximately 140 inspection logs were missing from Fernald's various radioactive and hazardous waste sites, his agency assumes that no inspections were conducted for those areas during the time in question.

Mr. Mitchell said the Ohio EPA learned of the missing records through an Enquirer investigation last month.

The Fernald areas with missing inspection records include storage pads and buildings where thousands of barrels filled with radioactive and toxic wastes are stored, and other radioactively-contaminated buildings and outdoor areas.

The Ohio EPA also found that a major safety concern was the lack of inspection records at Fernald's Plant 1 Pad Area, where tens of thousands of barrels filled with radioactive and toxic waste are stored.

In a March 4 report, The Enquirer revealed leaky barrels filled with radioactive and toxic waste were endangering the safety of workers at the Plant 1 Pad Area.

FERMCO told the Energy Department at the time that it had not had any leaky barrels since Jan. 1. More than a week later, FERMCO conceded there had been scores of leaky barrels discovered since the first of the year. At that time, FERMCO did not reveal that Plant 1 Pad Area inspection records were missing.

Ohio EPA investigators discovered there was ''a large gap'' of missing inspection records at the Plant 1 Pad Area.

In its violation letter to the Energy Department and FERMCO, the Ohio EPA wrote: ''Ohio EPA considers this gap in the records to be of significant concern and DOE - FERMCO must take steps to ensure the situation does not recur.''

Mr. Mitchell said he considers the Energy Department and FERMCO problems ''serious violations.''

In addition to correcting the inspection problems ''immediately,'' the Energy Department and FERMCO must submit a letter within 15 days to the Ohio EPA detailing the corrective actions taken ''to prevent a recurrence of non-compliance.''

Additionally, FERMCO admitted in an internal report that it allowed employees with little or no required training to become radioactive waste and hazardous waste inspectors.

Investigators will review that issue during an upcoming Ohio EPA audit of the former uranium-processing plant, said Mr. Mitchell, adding that site-wide audits usually are unannounced.

Ohio EPA notified the Energy Department and FERMCO of its findings Friday in a letter detailing the radioactive and hazardous wastes safety violations. The letter was sent to Jack Craig, the Energy Department's Fernald area manager, and John C. Bradburne, FERMCO's president.

In response to the Ohio EPA findings, Energy Department officials at Fernald issued a written statement that said:

''The U.S. Department of Energy, Fernald Area Office, accepts the findings of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency review of administrative records regarding the site's waste storage program. The OEPA review has determined that approximately 140 (or approximately 5 percent) of the site's 2,658 inspection logs are missing. As a result of the site's internal audit which detected the discrepancy, immediate actions were taken to insure the situation is corrected and does not reoccur.''

The Energy Department's Mr. Craig did not respond to an Enquirer request for an interview Friday.

Rick Maslin, spokesman for FERMCO' parent company, Fluor Daniel Inc. of Irvine, Calif., issued a statement Friday night saying FERMCO discovered that the records were missing during an ongoing self-assessment program.

''The violation was in reference to record keeping errors and corrective measures have already been taken to ensure that the record keeping situation does not recur,'' the statement said.

The Ohio EPA learned of the missing records and initiated its investigation on March 15 after The Enquirer sought the agency's comment on an internal FERMCO report obtained by the newspaper that detailed the missing documents. The report also revealed the company's failure to properly train employees assigned as inspectors, said Mr. Mitchell.

FERMCO officials conducted their internal probe between Feb. 16 and Feb. 21 and wrote a report of their findings, but did not notify Ohio EPA of the violations.

The Ohio EPA's Mr. Mitchell said that while ''it does not appear that this situation resulted in a threat to site workers, the public or the environment,'' there was no way to be absolutely sure because of the missing records.

''We base our belief that it does not appear this situation threatened (people and environment) because FERMCO did have other inspection records and because of reviews from other on-site visits,'' said Mr. Mitchell. ''But no, we can't be absolutely sure.''

FERMCO's parent company, Fluor Daniel, was hired by the Energy Department under a $2.2 billion, five-year contract in December 1992 to manage the cleanup of radioactive and hazardous wastes at the 1,050-acre Fernald site.

Published April 6, 1996.