Sept. 04--A type of salt could have caused the massive fire at Scranton Cooperage on June 27, state environmental regulators said.
Sodium chlorite, mainly used in textile and paper industries, was stored in barrels at the site, though it's not clear how many or whether this definitely caused the blaze.
Firefighters returned to the site multiple times since then. A flare-up Tuesday was the fourth from the same pile of metal and plastic since the massive blaze that enveloped the Mid Valley Drive facility, Jessup Hose Company 2 Chief Steve Pitoniak said.
No member of the Fire Department has contacted DEP for information, said Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Colleen Connolly. DEP is willing to sit down and discuss concerns with Chief Pitoniak or any other firefighters, she said.
DEP suspects the June 27 fire ignited after a company forklift punctured a 55-gallon metal drum filled with "sodium chloride and/or sodium chlorite that was generated offsite and stored at Scranton Cooperage for over one year," according to a notice of violation DEP issued to owner Eric Spatt in July.
Efforts to reach Mr. Spatt were not successful.
Sodium chloride is table salt. Sodium chlorite, or NaClO2, is an oxidizing agent that can become explosive when combined with organic materials or another reducing agent, Ms. Connolly said in an email, citing DEP environmental remediation experts.
In this case, the organic, or carbon-based, chemical could have been grease or lubricant from the forklift, she said.
The explanation is a hypothetical one, not a definitive statement on how the June 27 fire started.
"The fire marshal should or will determine that," Ms. Connolly said.
Scranton Cooperage violated the Solid Waste Management Act by storing sodium chloride and sodium chlorite in barrels at the site for more than a year, DEP documents state.
On Aug. 25, DEP issued another notice of violation of the state Clean Streams Law for a discharge of runoff from firefighters' water mixed with whatever was stored in the barrels. It's not clear if the barrels held only sodium chloride and sodium chlorite.
DEP shared water sample test results from runoff near the site's entrance. That test showed sodium, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc in concentrations greater than 1 milligram per liter. Sodium had the highest concentration by far at 515 milligrams per liter.
The test also showed much lower concentrations of five different phthalates and phenol, which are used in the plastics industry and another chemical used in dyes. The concentrations ranged from 11.8 micrograms per liter to 494 micrograms per liter. A thousand micrograms equals one milligram.
"Currently, the contractor has not found any dangerous levels of hazardous substances at the clean-up site," Ms. Connolly said.
DEP also shared an email thread discussing clean-up with SCE Environmental Group Inc., one of the contractors Scranton Cooperage hired.
On July 8, after receiving the water test results, a DEP water quality specialist asked the contractor what has been done "so far to stop the continuing release of contaminated stormwater?"
Two days later, Jody Cordaro of SCE Environmental said they were segregating metals onto a plastic sheet, putting extra packaging around sodium chlorite drums, pumping around 40,000 gallons of contaminated runoff into tanks and installing erosion control devices like hay bales and silt fences.
DEP asked them to remove contaminated soil, and Mr. Cordaro sent a reply explaining how SCE Environmental would do so.
The discussion turned to whether Mr. Spatt would try to obtain a release of liability under Pennsylvania's Land Recycling Program, known as Act 2. If granted, this liability release would extend to future owners, according to the DEP’s webpage.
Cleanup is still ongoing, Ms. Connolly said.
"The contractor continues to work to remediate the site and DEP is waiting to see if they will go Act 2 to continue that remediation," she said.
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