Utility sets up decontamination site in Nikiski

PCB detox begins

Posted: Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Chugach Electric Association says its contractor is using a Nikiski site to strip PCB-laden paint from hundreds of parts from the Cooper Lake Hydroelectric Project.

"We're taking PCB paint off metal components of generators and turbines," said Carl Harmon, the utility's environmental engineering manager. "We're decontaminating them at a facility at Bernice Lake."

Polychlorinated biphenyl, 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. Environmen-tal 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."

Dan Duncan, who is overseeing the work for EPA in Seattle, did not return a call Tuesday. 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.

"It will be a slurry," he said. "You keep it wet so you don't get any dust."

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.

Chugach has dredged gravel from the channels that run from the turbines to Kenai Lake and placed it on the powerhouse road. If the dredge spoils are contaminated, Liepitz said, runoff also could carry PCBs to Kenai Lake.

To avoid any discharge during the upgrade, Chugach drained the water from the powerhouse and turbines. Even so, it placed a boom to catch any debris that might escape the plant and added a carbon filter to purify any discharge from the separator.

FERC approved the utility's plan, but added several conditions:

n Fish and Wildlife said the separator was not designed to remove PCBs, and the carbon filter could clog. FERC said Chugach must install a treatment system specifically designed for the plant.

n Chugach must work with EPA on a plan to decontaminate the powerhouse and provide copies of that to Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife. Steyer said Chugach may leave PCB paint on the walls and PCB caulk in the windows.

n Chugach must hire a consultant to oversee the PCB cleanup.

n It must work with EPA, Fish and Wildlife and Fish and Game on a plan to investigate possible PCB contamination in Kenai Lake.

"I wouldn't say it's a great solution," Liepitz said.

He said he is concerned about possible contamination in Kenai Lake and in the dredge spoils. Biologists need more information, he said, and so far, they have no plan from Chugach.

"They've been caught red-handed," Liepitz said. "They ought to own up and address these things. We're still trying to get them to play ball."

FERC said it would address the possibility of contaminated dredge spoils at a later date.

Steyer said workers already have drained the powerhouse and begun dismantling the generators and turbines. Decontamination already is under way at Bernice Lake. Workers will begin rebuilding the turbines in June, he said. They should complete the generator upgrade by September and begin testing in October.

Harmon said Chugach has hired Gilfilian Engineering and Environ-mental Testing to monitor PCB cleanup and work on plans to investigate Kenai Lake -- or determine if that is even necessary. Steyer said Gilfilian also is monitoring decontamination work at Bernice Lake.

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