DEP happy with settlement over railcar spill

By John O'Brien | Oct 16, 2006

CHARLESTON - The state's Department of Environmental Protection is to be given almost $2 million more than it asked for when it first filed a lawsuit against TechSol Chemical Co., the business blamed for a chemical spill that occurred two years ago in Westmoreland.

In addition to the $3 million included in the settlement made public Monday, TechSol is no longer able to operate in the state, and owner James Richard Holt will never again be able to handle environmentally sensitive material that would require a state permit, DEP spokesperson Jessica Greathouse said.

"We wanted to make sure the environment was protected, now and in the future, so we were glad to get this settled," she said.

When the DEP filed suit in Nov. 2004 in Wayne Circuit Court, it asked for only $1.1 million. That number nearly tripled in the settlement, which will be posted for 30 days while DEP Cabinet Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer fields public suggestions.

At the end of 30 days, she has the option to amend the settlement based on the public suggestions, then either approve or turn down the agreement. If she approves it, it will go to Wayne Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt.

The monetary portion of the settlement, Greathouse said, represents civil penalties and money spent on the aftermath of the spill.

"After the spill, we were conducting tests and overseeing the cleanup done by contractors, and essentially it will go to those types of costs," Greathouse said.

The spill occurred on TechSol's premises Oct. 28, 2004, when 22,000 gallons of coal tar light oil spilled as workers were transferring it from a railroad car leased by Marathon Ashland Petroleum to a truck that would take it to a Kentucky refinery.

Coal tar light oil contains several harmful chemicals, including benzene, that trickled into the ground and nearby stream. Approximately 500 homes were evacuated during two separate evacuation procedures.

Other chemicals included in coal tar light oil are toluene, xylene, naphthalene, indene and z-methylnapthalene.

The DEP's complaint said TechSol did not file for the proper permit when it began coal tar trans-loading, and that it did not notify the DEP of the incident.

The complaint listed several other problems with the operation of TechSol, which shut down immediately after the spill and has not done business since, Greathouse said.

At least eight other lawsuits have been filed against TechSol by the residents who were evacuated during the spill. Other companies listed as defendants on those suits are Marathon Ashland Petroleum, Rescar, Inc., Sloss Industries Corp. and GATX Financial Corp.

TechSol was represented by Jane Holt-Duecaster, Holt's sister and attorney practicing in Texas. She said her brother does not have the money to pay the settlement.

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