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EPA Inspects Rayon Plant Shut Down Amid Pollution Cleanup

November 12, 1989

FRONT ROYAL, Va. (AP) _ Avtex Fibers Inc. has agreed to remove a highly flammable chemical from its closed rayon plant while federal inspectors checked for other hazardous materials.

Avtex officials met Saturday with federal, state and local environmental and hazardous waste specialists at the plant, which shut down abruptly Friday after the state revoked its waste water discharge permit. The State Water Control Board found Thursday that Avtex had violated the permit by dumping toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the Shenandoah River.

The plant, hampered for years by costly pollution and worker safety problems, last year was promised a $22.6 million federal bailout because it is the only supplier of carbonized rayon yarn used in the space shuttle and nuclear missiles.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state officials who arrived late Friday were most concerned about containers of carbon disulfide left in the plant, said Harold Yates, an EPA spokesman. Yates said he believed the highly flammable chemical was in liquid form stored in containers at the bottom of water tanks.

″The company agreed to arrange for the removal of the carbon disulfide within the next few days,″ he said. ″That basically will be determined by the availability of a contractor that can come in here and safely transfer that material to railroad tank cars.″

Yates said EPA personnel were guarding the chemical until its removal, which will be paid for by the company.

″This was one of the chemicals that was generated or used in the manufacturing process there,″ he said. It presented a hazard once the plant shut down because employees were no longer there to keep an eye on it, he said.

About a half dozen EPA officials and several contractors were on the site checking for other hazardous materials, Yates said. He said he believed the company would continue cleaning up the PCBs with EPA oversight.

David A. Tousignant, president of the Front Royal plant, said Thursday the company would be unable to clean up the site if it shut down and lost its revenues. His home phone number is unlisted and he could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The approximately 400 workers received no notice, although federal law requires 60 days of notice when large plants shut down for foreseeable reasons, said James Brinklow, business agent for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union local at Avtex.

″We’re out of a job now,″ Brinklow said, maintaining the state should pay the workers for 60 days because it forced the closure. State officials sued to close the plant, saying PCBs have contaminated it since a December 1985 leak of some 500 gallons of the toxins from a transformer.

Richard N. Burton, executive director of the state water board, called the plant’s sudden closing an example of ″a continuing contempt for the public ... as well as Virginia’s environment.″

Workers and residents said the state’s action left the company no choice.

″There’s a lot of talk whether this is more politics than substance,″ said Michael W. Kitts, Front Royal’s vice mayor.

Kitts said he supports the state’s efforts to stop the pollution but it was unfair to force the company to shut down when it had started cleaning up the PCBs earlier this year.

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