Saturday, November 27, 1999

Sulfuric acid leak was not Brewer's first

There was a similar leak in 1994,
and earlier this year, the company
was fined for improper storage
of hazardous waste

By Lori Tighe and Harold Morse


Brewer Environmental Industries -- whose tank spilled some 35 tons of sulfuric acid at Campbell Industrial Park on Thanksgiving -- had a similar acid leak in 1994, according to a state official.

Brewer cleaned up the earlier sulfuric acid spill without the state's intervention, Gary Gill, state deputy director for environmental health, said today.

Stephen Knox, president of Brewer Environmental, acknowledged that "there was another leak" in 1994 but said it happened before he began working for the company.

The Environmental Protection Agency also fined the company $250,000 this year as part of a settlement for improperly storing hazardous waste at its warehouse at 311 Pacific St. in Iwilei.

The past record of chemical accidents "certainly" concerns the state, Gill said.

"We're going to take a close look at the age of the plant, its safety and response methods and how Brewer utilizes them or fails to utilize them," he said.

Knox said the EPA fine and the Thanksgiving Day spill was "unfortunately a coincidence in timing."


The state expected the sulfuric acid to be cleaned up today, Gill said. Workers from a private company, Pacific Environmental Corp., were still neutralizing the acid before it could be pumped into containers.

About 1,000 gallons of remaining chemical on the ground tested as "nearly pure" sulfuric acid at mid-morning today, Gill said.

The state Health Department took over the cleanup yesterday when officials discovered Brewer planned to leave the acid in puddles to evaporate over the weekend.

"It's apparently past practice for them, but it's completely inadequate," Gill said.

Knox said leaving the acid to evaporate is one way to remove the acid.

But in this case, he agreed with the state to pump it up and allow the state to take over the cleanup process.

Concerning the EPA fine, Knox said some renovation was going on at the Iwilei site, and fertilizer and soap were stored there too long. "We should have gotten rid of it sooner," he said. "There was no danger. There was no exposure."

At a news conference yesterday, Gill and state Health Director Bruce Anderson criticized Brewer for not immediately notifying the Health Department of Thursday's acid leak at the Brewer facility at 91-29 Hanua St. in Ewa.

Gill said an investigation is not complete. A staff member said the fine for failure to notify authorities of a spill could amount to $10,000 a day.

Anderson added the spill's occurrence on the Thanksgiving Day holiday may have complicated matters.

Knox said there was confusion as to when the Health Department was notified of the spill. "Our (company) person there said they had a number and tried to call several times," but it was later found to be disconnected, he said.

By then Fire Department and Health Department personnel were at the site, he said.

"We thought it was moot since they were already there."

However, that doesn't excuse the procedure if it was faulty, Knox said. Thursday and yesterday were company holidays, and the firm was shut down, he added.

Gill said the spill, blamed on a corroded pipe at the bottom of one of three acid storage tanks at the industrial park site, amounted to an estimated 4,552 gallons, or roughly 35 tons.


A pool of acidic liquid that remained at the site appeared to be reacting and bubbling, Gill said. A test showed it to be highly acidic, and although Brewer was slow to cooperate, an executive eventually granted access for the state-run cleanup, Gill said.

The spill was reported by neighboring Chevron employees at about 2:15 p.m. Thursday.

Although there was concern the spill may have harmed wildlife by contaminating ground water, Gill said Hawaiian stilts and coots he saw on a pond on the adjacent Chevron property seemed healthy. No dead birds were seen, he said. Chlorine gas was formed when sulfuric acid entered a culvert that contained chlorinated wash water from machinery, Gill said.

Favorable winds and the timing of the incident meant no immediate public threat, and no dramatic impacts on the natural environment were created, Gill and Anderson said.

"Our most immediate concern was the health and safety of the workers," Anderson added.

He said the response system worked well once the spill was reported.

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