By JANE MCCLURE
The abandonment of drums and open vats of toxic chemicals at a shuttered Prior Ave. metal electroplating facility has left some neighborhood residents and nearby business owners with questions and angered elected officials.
The past few weeks have meant a flurry of meeting and actions centered on conditions at the old Plating Inc. plant at 888 N. Prior Ave., just south of Pierce Butler Route. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had to step in, which what it calls a “time critical” removal and cleanup plan. The EPA has indicated that the work could take up to 65 days.
More than 80 open vats and 76 sealed barrels must be removed from the building. The metal plating process involves several hazardous chemicals. The chemicals were left behind when the plant closed. The open vats contained caustics, chromium, and cyanide. It’s also believed the walls of the 21,00-square foot building contain asbestos
A community meeting was held in August, and federal, state and local officials continue to monitor the situation. The old cinderblock building has housed a plating shop since about 1938. It most recently handled zinc and chromate plating of aluminum products. The business closed and was abandoned in the spring of 2016. The business owner told EPA officials he had no money to clean up the hazardous materials left behind.
What sent up red flags for neighbors and elected officials is that the building has been the subject of break-ins, with thieves in search of copper pipes to resell. The EPA has hired a security firm to guard the building.
EPA officials have also gone door-to-door in the residential neighborhood to the east to tell neighbors what is going on. Neighbors have been told that there will be regular air monitoring done as the chemicals are removed. The EPA has also informed neighbors that there are contingency plans in case of any emergencies. The cleanup will take place during weekday business hours and should be done by year’s end.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who hosted the August neighborhood meeting, called for the U.S. Attorney’s office to look into criminal charges against the company owner. EPA documents indicate that Ron Glebus is the former chief executive of Plating Inc. He could not be reached for comment.
In her letter, McCollum wrote, “The decision by the owner of Plating, Inc. to abandon 82 open vats and 76 drums of toxic chemicals is an environmental crime that must be prosecuted. The fact that individuals walked away from vats and drums containing sodium hydroxide, chromic acid, sodium cyanide, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, chromium, and zinc without informing regulators or public safety officials is an act of negligence and public endangerment.”
The EPA has allocated $1.6 million to clean up the site.
The Midway area has had several metal plating plants over the years. Only a few remain. While it’s unusual for a plant owner to just shut the doors and walk away, it isn’t unheard of in the Twin Cities. Plant closings and cleanups typically involve the EPA.
To reach contacts for the Plating, Inc. cleanup go to https://response.epa.gov/site/site_profile.aspx?site_id=12315.