The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Portland-based Oil Re-Refining Company to dispose of 150,000 gallons of PCB-contaminated oil or face a $450,000 penalty.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are carcinogenic chemicals that were banned in the U.S. in 1979, but they’re still found in the environment and old electrical equipment, used oil and hydraulic systems.
The Portland oil recycling company collects used hydraulic and motor oil from businesses throughout the Northwest and turns it into new oil products, and according to ORRCO company president Bill Briggs, it occasionally it comes across used oil that contains PCBs.
But in 2010, Briggs said, two contaminated loads carried in 9,000-gallon trucks became about 650,000 gallons of contaminated oil before the PCBs were discovered.
“PCB looks like used oil and smells like used oil,” he said. “You don’t know the difference until you do a lab test.”
According to EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski, ORRCO reported having contaminated oil in 2010. The EPA did an inspection and found the company in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which prohibits diluting, blending or mixing PCBs with other liquids.
“It sounds like it was a series of mistakes in checking and testing the oil they collect,” said Skadowski. “If you get some and put it in a big batch of oil, suddenly you have a lot of it.”
Briggs said the PCBs in the hydraulic oil collected from Pacific Recycling in Eugene and Burly Seal Products of Tooele, Utah, was mixed with oil from other locations at the ORRCO facilities in Portland, Klamath Falls and Utah. The trucks themselves were contaminating the loads of oil they collected for three weeks, he said.
“It was all considered contaminated,” he said. “I had to dispose of it. I lost my inventory, I laid off 43 people. I’m out $8 million.”
ORRCO reported the problem to the EPA and agreed to dispose of the contaminated oil, but it was too expensive to do all the disposal at once.
“They had so much oil, their problem was going to be how to deal with it and not go out of business,” Skadowski said. “This settlement says that as they can afford it, they will get that oil into a proper disposal facility.”
Briggs said he’s been paying to have the oil incinerated in 30,000-gallon batches every other month. Now there is about 150,000 gallons of contaminated oil left.
The EPA negotiated a settlement with the company that requires all 150,000 gallons to be incinerated by October 2016 to avoid the crippling fine.
ORRCO is suing the two companies it blames for the contamination.