Bernice Lake becomes PCB decontamination site

Posted: Wednesday, May 03, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- A site at Bernice Lake in Nikiski is being used for stripping PCB-laden paint from hundreds of parts from the Cooper Lake Hydroelectric Project, according to Chugach Electric Association.

''We're taking PCB paint off metal components of generators and turbines,'' said Carl Harmon, the utility's environmental engineering manager.

PCBs, once used widely in electrical transformers and capacitors, are suspected carcinogens. Federal biologists say they accumulate in the food chain and may harm fish and wildlife. Gary Liepitz, a habitat biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game, said he fears PCBs from the Cooper Lake powerhouse could reach Kenai Lake.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered Chugach to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a plan to decontaminate the powerhouse and provide copies to Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, Liepitz and Fish and Wildlife biologist Vicki Davis, who have been monitoring Cooper Lake plans, said they had heard nothing about using the Bernice Lake power plant as a decontamination site.

''They can treat and decontaminate as long as they isolate and contain this material and take it to an authorized disposal site. But they haven't come to us with any plan yet,'' Liepitz said. ''We have a right to review it and comment on its adequacy.''

Chugach spokesman Phil Steyer said FERC's order applies to decontaminating the powerhouse and not to cleaning parts removed during the upgrade.

Because the metal parts are nonporous, he said, under present regulations, their decontamination requires no special EPA approval. However, the paint chips must be disposed of, according to EPA regulations.

Chugach has hired Alaska Pollution Control to decontaminate parts removed from the plant. Harmon said the contractor is using a pressure washer in an outdoor containment area to strip PCB paint.

''It's a contained area, a steel-constructed base and containment with an impervious liner,'' he said. ''All of the water will be collected and filtered.''

There should be no more than two 55-gallon drums of PCB-laden paint chips, he said.

Steyer said the contractor is treating the wash water at an EPA-approved site, and testing it before discharging it to an Anchorage municipal treatment plant. Decontaminated parts will be reused or scrapped according to EPA regulations, he said.

PCBs became an issue at Cooper Lake after Chugach asked FERC for permission to upgrade the powerhouse. FERC approved, but asked Chugach to work with resource agencies on plans to keep contaminants from escaping to Kenai Lake.

During subsequent discussions, Chugach said PCBs had been detected in waste from an oil-water separator used to clean discharges to Kenai Lake. Later, tests found PCBs in powerhouse paint and window caulking and in grease used to lubricate the turbines.

A FERC contractor detected no PCBs in the discharge from the oil-water separator. However, the plant opened in 1960, and the separator was not installed until 1989. Liepitz worried that PCBs may have escaped to Kenai Lake for years.

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