The Environmental Protection Agency will resume its cleanup of an abandoned biofuels processing plant northwest of Ferndale in July.
Located on 34 acres, TreOil Industries Biorefinery is no longer operating. It was used to process distilled tall oil, as a biodiesel refinery and for other small-scale miscellaneous industrial operations, according to EPA.
EPA was on site in March for an emergency cleanup, expected to cost $1 million, after regulators found hazardous substances leaking from containers.
Crews will return to the property at 4242 Aldergrove Road this summer and continue the cleanup by removing the last remaining liquid tall oil, about 13,000 gallons, from five above-ground storage tanks in the northern part of the property, said Suzanne Skadowski, EPA spokeswoman.
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“Our response team decided to wait to remove the liquid oil from these tanks because of the safety concerns and environmental damage that could have occurred by operating heavy equipment in this area while the ground was so heavily saturated with rainwater,” Skadowski said.
Tall oil is a byproduct of kraft processes – turning wood into wood pulp to make paper – and is a mixture of primarily acidic compounds found in pine trees, the EPA said. It is a component of rubber products, inks, adhesives and is used as an emulsifier for asphalt.
Regulators believe the site – most of the operation was on 4 acres – has been sitting idle and basically unmonitored for about a decade.
It has been a concern for regulators since the 1980s and has been on the state Department of Ecology’s list of hazardous sites in Whatcom County since 2001.
Attempts to get business and property owner Jagroop S. Gill, of Delta, B.C., to clean up the site, including a concerted effort since 2015, have been unsuccessful, officials said.
In March, EPA officials said what they found included 50 above-ground storage tanks, about 30,000 gallons of liquid tall oil and 165,000 gallons of solidified tall oil. There also were 700 containers of hazardous materials – liquids, solids and gases, including those that were corrosive and flammable.
Thirty-nine above-ground storage tanks didn’t have secondary containment, which look like empty cement pools around tanks, as an added layer of protection should what’s inside leak, they said.
As part of the cleanup, EPA has removed dozens of drums and totes as well as one large tank – itself filled with 53 abandoned drums of tall oil.
“The tank was removed because it was contaminated with liquid oil,” Skadowski said. “It was cleaned and recycled by a steel recycler.”
EPA doesn’t have the authority to remove parts of the plant where oil or other hazardous substances aren’t at threat of leaking.
EPA put temporary containment around the five tanks that still have tall oil in them, and is working with Ecology and Whatcom County Public Health Department. The agencies will later determine what may have ended up in the soil and groundwater, and discuss fines.