A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 October 3, 1991


THERMALKEM cites “clean” record in South Carolina in efforts to site a hazardous waste incinerator in North Carolina

“ We have virtually been abandoned . If there has been any movement on behalf of the regulatory agencies...its because they’ve been forced by the people. When they did look [at ThermalKEM] they found violations like chestnuts dropping after a frost.”

Waste Not interview with Dr. Paul Sacco, Citizens for Clean Air & Water, 2190 Oak Park Road, Rock Hill, SC 29730.


Permitted to burn 2.85 tons per hour, or 19,500 tons per year (hourly rate is higher). Incinerator Stack Height: 57 feet. Pollution Controls: Cyclonic wet scrubber. Not permitted to burn: PCBs, dioxins, explosives, pathological and etiological wastes. Out-of-state-waste to ThermalKEM: 95% in 1987; 91% in 1988. Ash sent to Laidlaw’s GSX landfill in Sumter County, SC.

History of ThermalKEM’s hazardous waste incinerator in Rock Hill, SC: In 1976 Walter Neal, a local resident, started Industrial Chemicals, a solvent recovery system, on Cherry Road in Rock Hill. Residents thought of Industrial Chemicals as a “Mom and Pop” type of operation, and it received an EPA permit to handle hazardous waste. Neal then moved his operation to Highway 5 and Heckle Boulevard, which according to residents, the EPA later cleaned up by digging up barrels of waste, placing the waste in new barrels, and then burying the new barrels on the same site. Sometime before 1983, Industrial Chemicals moved to the current site, located in a flood plain, on Robertson Road, which is at the end of Wild Cat Creek, which empties into nearby Fishing Creek, which is a main feeder for the Catawba River. Industrial Chemicals merged with Quality Drums in 1982. An incinerator, which neighbors referred to as a glorified moonshine still, was built sometime before 1983. Residents say that ThermalKEM entered the Rock Hill area under the name of Stablex Inc., when Stablex bought out Neal’s operation in 1983. It’s unclear whether ThermalKEM bought into the operation in 1983 or 1985. According to a former Rock Hill resident, Jack Lewis1, when Stablex took over the operation the site was heavily contaminated with leaking drums. Jack said that truckloads of dirt were hauled in to cover the site which was then paved over and new buildings were erected. The name was changed from Stablex to ThermalKEM in January 1987. ThermalKEM operates the incinerator under a grandfathered interim status permit. This incinerator accepts wastes from Federal EPA-sponsored work at superfund sites.

1991: THERMALKEM AGREES TO PAY $90,000 FINE. “ThermalKEM Inc. on Friday agreed to pay a $90,000 fine - one of the state’s largest hazardous waste fines - for 13 violations last year at the southwest Rock Hill incinerator. The company still vigorously denies any wrongdoing but said it wanted to resolve the issue to avoid a long legal battle, after spending 1 1/2 years negotiating with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control [DHEC] and US Environmental Protection Agency...Over the course of four inspections of the plant between November 1989 and August 1990, the two agencies found the company stored too much waste on site, fed too much waste into the incinerator on one occasion and had numerous waste-container problems. In the 12-page order, ThermalKEM denies all of the violations. Plant manager Mark Taylor said settling the matter saved the company ‘several hundred thousand dollars in legal costs.’...The major violation in the consent order centers on ThermalKEM’s storage of excess waste. The order says the plant exceeded its permitted storage capacity of 227,100 gallons of waste, based on a Part A permit granted in 1985. One Jan. 30, 1990, the plant had 335,490 gallons processed and stored, and on May 15, the inventory was 305,000 gallons...The majority of the violations centered on the condition of the 55-gallon drums of waste at the plant and the accessibility of them. Language describing the violations changed dramatically in the consent order. For example, the notice of violations last year cited numerous open, crushed and improperly sealed drums and stacking of drums that could be a fire and explosion hazard. The order instead referred to ‘dented’ drums and one with its ‘lid slightly ajar.’ DHEC didn’t cite violations for an Aug. 28 inspection by EPA that noted odors and fugitive emissions at the drum processing area. The order said: ‘Certain housekeeping improvements were recommended by EPA for the drum-processing area’...” The Herald, 5-18-91, Page 6A, Rock Hill, SC.

THERMALKEM EXCEEDED ARSENIC EMISSIONS BY AS MUCH AS 144 POUNDS PER HOUR. “...A federal inspection Jan. 30-31 found that ThermalKEM Inc., which incinerates chemical wastes, surpassed its arsenic emission limits by as much as 144 pounds per hour and chromium limits by 1 pound per hour. When the permits were issued feed limits were set,’ said Carl Terry, EPA spokesman. ‘For two of them, the company exceeded those limits’...” Charlotte Observer, NC, 5-5-90. The permits Carl Terry was referring to were issued on June 28, 1988, by the US EPA for the ThermalKEM, Rock, Hill, SC, hazardous waste incinerator, imposing limits on the following ten metals which could be fed into the incinerator. These limits became the subject of appeals by both ThermalKEM and citizens’ groups. Limits on 5 of the metals* became effective May 24, 1989, and limits on the remaining five became effective Nov. 19, 1990. They are:

Name of Maximum Allowable Feed Rate Name of Maximum Allowable Feed Rate

Metal in Pounds Per Hour Metal in Pounds Per Hour___________

Antimony* 2.42

Chromium* 26.3

Arsenic* 0.99

Lead* 22.08

Barium 10.0

Mercury 0.6

Beryllium 0.0044

Silver 0.7

Cadmium* 11.98

Thallium 1.3

Test burn “flawed” in testing of metals emissions from ThermalKEM’s Rock Hill, SC, hazardous waste incinerator. “3. A trial burn was performed at ThermalKEM in December, 1986 and May 1987, in accordance with R.61-79.270.62 (b). The trial burn met all of the requirements of the regulations. The permit issued by the EPA in June 1988 contained conditions with limits on metals in the waste feed. EPA has since discovered that the trial burn conducted in 1986 and 1987 was ‘flawed’ as it related to the testing of metals emissions. The metal analytical data provided by ThermalKEM was incomplete and lacked conformity to established QA/QC guidelines. There were no flaws, however, in the trial burn’s methods used to determine if the incinerator met the performance standards designated in the hazardous waste regulations. These performance standards are designed to protect human health and the environment. Currently, there are no promulgated regulations which directly address incineration of metals. The ThermalKEM incinerator has met the performance standards, therefore, there is no basis to close down the incinerator. The EPA has requested that ThermalKEM perform another trial burn for the metals to accurately assess metals emissions. A proposal to conduct a metal specific test burn was submitted to the EPA on June 20, 1990.” 7-26-90 Letter to Jack B. Lewis, from Hartsill W. Truesdale, Bureau of Solid and Haz. Waste Management, SC Dept. of Health and Environmental Control, Columbia, SC. --Ed. Note: No metal emissions tests have been performed to date.

ThermalKEM’s use of its “DUMP STACK”: Robert Guild, of Columbia, SC, an attorney for the Rock Hill-based Citizens for Clean Air and Water stated that: “ThermalKEM has improperly used its emergency dump stack to routinely bypass required pollution-control equipment, which is critical to the removal of toxic metals, acids and other particulates, without so much as a slap on the wrist by DHEC [SC’s Dept. of Health and Environmental Control] inspectors...He said company records indicate 94 instances in 1989 during which the thermal relief stack opened, bypassing the pollution-control scrubbers located on the plant’s stack. In 10 of those cases, ThermalKEM’s own records indicate the venting of the relief stack was not permitted under conditions of the company’s permit, Guild said. He said use of the dump stack has been increasing, with more than 151 openings recorded between January and September of this year...” The Herald*, Rock Hill, SC, 11-16-90.

Employees tell Federal inspectors of fires and inadequate protective attire: “...Employees did report that fires occasionally occur at the ram feed and ash handling areas of the incinerator and in the hopper of the drum processing area...Employees reported several different incidents in the drum processing area where they/and or other employees working in the area became ill from chemicals they were packing in fiber containers even though they were wearing their level C attire...” USEPA Region 4, RCRA Incinerator Health & Safety Inspection Report, of 8-28-90 inspection of ThermalKEM,Rock Hill,pg5.

December 1988: An explosion occurred on Dec. 8th which blew a door off the incinerator, ruptured a fuel line, and rattled windows in nearby homes. The explosion was blamed on mislabeled drums, containing nitrocellulose from an EPA superfund cleanup site at Drake Chemical Co., in Lock Haven, Pa. See the The Herald*, Rock Hill, SC, 12-17-88, page 3-A.

September 1989: “ThermalKEM told state officials there was a small fire outside the Rock Hill hazardous waste incinerator on Sept. 1, but the company denied a report that smoke billowed off its property. The cloud reported that night by a passerby was nothing more than fog, ThermalKEM compliance director Dallas Robinson told investigators...Phyllis Ferguson, a nearby resident...said the smoke made her nose and throat burn and made it difficult to see the ThermalKEM plant from nearby Robertson Road...Robinson said ThermalKEM did have a ‘non-routine’ event beginning about 11:30 p.m. on Sept 1 with the tripping of a boiler, which supplements steam to the plant’s scrubber. According to his report, a mercury pressure switch stuck momentarily, resulting in a loss of steam pressure which automatically shut down the plant air-pollution control device as required by the plant permit...” The Herald*, 9-16-89, page 2A.

March 24, 1991: “...ThermalKEM declined to describe the incident as an explosion but said a pressure release caused a boiler - about 50 feet long- to ‘scoot across the floor’ and out of the building, covering a distance of 50 to 100 feet before coming to a stop...Neighbors told The Herald they heard a loud boom...A former employee of ThermalKEM who was at the plant at the time...said an explosion ripped out a sheet-metal wall on one side of the building, mangled a cast-iron stepping stand and left debris all over the grounds. He also reported diesel fuel flowing ankle deep across the floor of the plant...He said he saw fuel oil pour into a creek below and that workers had to shut down a spewing natural gas line....”The Herald, Rock Hill, SC, 4-16-91.

1. See interview with Jack Lewis in “Scandal in North Carolina”, by Video Active, Box 322, Rte. 2, Canton, NY 13617.

Jack Lewis died 2-7-91 of liver disease. *Reports written by Peter M. Judge who was an environmental reporter for the Rock Hill Herald for 8 years. Peter wrote extensively on ThermalKEM for his paper. Peter died, at age 31, on 2-11-91, of a brain tumor.

WASTE NOT # 167 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.