South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

DNR cites Fred Weber’s Oakville asphalt plant for smelling foul

Fred Weber Inc.’s Oakville asphalt plant has been cited for smelling foul, a violation of the state’s air quality code.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources sent a letter April 27 notifying Weber Vice President of Operations Roger Gagliano of the odor problem, giving the company 15 days to make its case or potentially face a fine up to $10,000 per violation.

Gagliano did not return telephone messages from the Call before press time.

After receiving an “overwhelming number of complaints,” Tom Markowski of the DNR surveyed residents of the Cambridge Pointe subdivision near Weber’s operations on Baumgartner road and 80 percent noted a foul, objectionable odor. Only 30 percent is needed to merit a violation, Markowski told the Call.

“They have 15 days to claim: ‘This is why we had this problem,'” he said. “If they deny the claim or if they make a claim and we don’t buy it, it would be updated to a Notice of Violation and they could be fined.

“Typically, companies respond by im-proving their operations,” Markowski said. “It’s up to the factory how they’re going to fix the situation. The department can’t make anybody do anything, but they do have the ability to fine people for environmental violations. The department has no authority to shut anybody down. We can just fine them, which is an incentive for them to fix the problem.”

Based on the survey results, Weber violated Division 10 Chapter 5.160, Control of Odors in the Ambient Air, of the Mis-souri Air Conservation Commission Reg-ulations. DNR investigated and verified the problem on Aug. 19, Dec. 1 and April 26, constituting three violations, according to Markowski’s letter.

Based on that odor code, “no person shall emit odorous matter as to cause an objectionable odor on or adjacent to residential, recreational, institutional, retail sales, hotel or educational premises …”

The county Department of Health on Jan. 25 notified Weber of possible violations to Section 612.340 of the County Ordinances, which states: “It is unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to permit or cause the escape of such quantities of soot, cinders, noxious acids, fumes and gases or other particulate matter from whatever source in such place or manner as to be detrimental to any person or to the public or to endanger the health, comfort and safety of any such person or the public, or in such manner as to cause or have a tendency to cause injury or damage to property or business. The escape of such matter is declared to be a public nuisance. Each day wherein a violation of this section occurs shall constitute a separate offense.”

Also responding to residents’ complaints, the county has been harping at Weber since June 2004, when the Depart-ment of Health wrote Gagliano to mandate “an acceptable abatement plan and time schedule to correct this odor problem.

“If our office does not receive this information, we will refer this matter to the County Counselor’s office for legal action,” states the letter signed by Charles Wildt, then chief of enforcement and engineering for the county Air Pollution Control Section.

An abatement plan still hasn’t surfaced, and County Counselor Patricia Redington never took legal action. Instead, the county turned the matter over to the Missouri DNR, county spokesman Mac Scott told the Call.

While Gagliano didn’t respond to messages from the Call to address the recent DNR violations, Weber attorney Gary Feder wrote the county Department of Health in February on Gagliano’s behalf, suggesting Weber is the subject of discrimination by the county.

“Weber has had concerns in the past that individuals at the Department of Health have not treated the company in a fair and reasonable manner,” wrote Feder of Husch & Eppenberger.

“It is totally unreasonable for (the county) to claim that the plant emits a violative odor simply because some residents in the area may claim that to be the case,” he added, noting a Weber-funded study that found no violations of any local, state or federal environmental laws. “It is … hard to understand how these anonymous and undefined complaints can support your conclusion that asphalt odor ‘constitutes detriment to the comfort of persons living in the area.'”

Since that letter, however, the DNR has claimed Weber is violating air quality standards.

“This issue seems to be gaining momentum,” Markowski said. “We’ve had recently six to eight calls per day. That’s something that hadn’t happened before. I think the citizens have finally decided they want to be heard on this …

“Asphalt plants and residential neighborhoods don’t belong anywhere near each other,” he said. “In my opinion, that subdivision shouldn’t have been put there in the first place. That asphalt plant was already there … Some of those houses are 150 yards away. It’s ridiculously close. To me, it’s incredible that this ever happened. My job is to enforce the rules and rules tend to ignore who was there first.”

Weber’s asphalt plant has been on the hot seat for months.

Most recently, County Executive Charlie Dooley signed legislation appropriating $80,000 for an environmental test of the air surrounding the Baumgartner indus-trial site and vowed to support water and soil testing at the behest of the influential Isaiah Cluster of Metropolitan Congre-gations United, or MCU.

MCU late last year surveyed roughly 360 residents of seven subdivisions surrounding Weber’s asphalt piles at Baumgartner and Old Baumgartner roads.

Of the residents responding, 49 percent living within one mile of the asphalt quarry have respiratory problems while 16 percent living more than one mile from the piles have problems. Also, 44 percent living within one mile have high blood pressure, as do 11 percent living more than one mile away.

Respondents also reported slightly higher cases of cancer, diabetes and heart problems than state and national averages, according to MCU’s non-scientific survey.

And at MCU’s annual community meeting in April, two Oakville residents questioned if Weber’s south quarry operations contributed to their health problems.

Oakville resident Ron Paul said he broke his collarbone while getting out of a chair and later discovered he had bone cancer stemming from his lungs that is most frequently caused by prolonged exposure to asphalt fumes and other particulates.

Oakville resident Polly Fick said her husband, Tom, died suddenly of kidney cancer at the age of 47. He had no family history of kidney cancer.

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