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CLCM Letter to St. Francis Common Council (12/18/17)

On December 18, 2017 CLCM sent a memo to the St. Francis Common Council to update municipal leaders about recent activities:

Update Regarding the Facility located at 3950 S. Pennsylvania Ave.

Background on the Reconditioning Industry Reconditioning companies like Container Life Cycle Management LLC (CLCM) perform a valuable environmental service. American industry uses millions of gallons of chemicals and other raw materials every year to create the vast majority of consumer and industrial products that our society consumes. Materials such as paints, cooking oil, cleaning materials, petroleum, solvents and antifreeze, are just a few examples of the chemicals transported to manufacturers in drums or plastic containers every day.

When these containers are emptied, similar to any can of soda or living room paint that is poured out, a small amount of residue remains in the containers that cannot be removed through the normal emptying process. When the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) developed regulations in the 1980s to manage the storage, transportation and treatment of hazardous waste, the agency very deliberately determined that removing every trace of container contents is not a reasonable expectation and that as long as a container is drained to a reasonable standard, it is sufficiently empty and not subject to regulation as a container holding hazardous waste. This is sometimes called the “Empty Container Rule.” At this point the agencies consider these containers “completely empty” and “non-hazardous for transport,” despite any small residue in the containers. At no time are we aware that any containers that do not satisfy the Empty Container Rule have been processed at any CLCM facility.

CLCM and other reconditioners clean, recondition and repaint millions of these containers that meet the Empty Container Rule every year so that these containers can be reused multiple times before being recycled. In 2015, for example, this industry recycled 27.6 million steel drums, 3.8 million plastic drums, and 3.1 million totes. In 2017, the CLCM facilities in Wisconsin (also known as Mid-America Steel Drum) reconditioned and resold more than one million containers. Without this industry, these containers would otherwise be landfilled or discarded, and other raw materials would be voraciously consumed in the manufacture of millions of new, single­use containers every year.

What’s Happened at the St. Francis Facility CLCM acquired Mid-America Steel Drum businesses in November 2013. During all the visits between November 2013 through 2016 regulators found the facility to be in compliance or identified issues that were promptly resolved. For a number of years, neighbors around the plant have filed complaints with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regarding an odor emanating from the plant. Once made aware of the magnitude of the complaints, CLCM management has been attempting to identify and address the issue.

During 2017, there have been:

  • At least 13 inspections

  • These inspections have been conducted by 5 agencies that regulate our sites – U.S. EPA, DNR, United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District (MMSD)

  • These inspections have occurred over a total of 10 different days

Some violations were identified. We have consistently held the position that we committed to working with regulators to address any issues that exist. At the same time, we will defend ourselves from allegations we believe are incorrect.

Recently three former employees have been interviewed in the newspaper regarding their working conditions. The employees named left the company nearly three years ago. In some cases, the conditions noted by these employees relate to processes that have since been changed by CLCM or that were discontinued even before CLCM acquired Mid-America. The conditions the newspaper described are not consistent with the current standard processes and operations at the CLCM facilities. We train our employees to work in a safe manner, follow standard processes and operations and we rely on these employees to make decisions consistent with the requirements. We encourage our employees to report any safety issues and those that have come to our attention have been addressed.

CLCM facilities have made considerable improvements in safety, including:

  • Significantly improving the safety culture including improved training, communications and processes to ensure the safety of our workplaces and colleagues

  • Conducting 34,000 hours of safety training (2016) and increased safety training hours in 2017

  • Investing more than $2M in safety improvements

  • Conducting electrical safety assessments at all facilities

  • Conducting in-depth industrial hygiene assessments at all facilities

What We’ve Done This Year Representatives of CLCM have visited neighbors around the St. Francis facility in an attempt to better understand their concerns. We opened a hotline for neighbors to report odor issues and provide updates as we’ve attempted to define the situation. We’ve conducted tours of our facility for local elected officials and community residents. Regulators and visitors have commented that the facility’s conditions are not consistent with the negative conditions portrayed in the media.

We have addressed the MMSD’s water discharge compliance issue, and the facility is currently operating within permitted pretreatment limits. We intend to maintain that status. Remember, all our discharge water has to meet pre-treatment limits and is regulated by MMSD. MMSD further treats the discharge at their plant. Additionally, we are no longer accepting certain drums for processing.

We raised the height of the stack coming out of the plant by 20 feet in an attempt to address the odor issue.

We’ve also adjusted production in an attempt to address the odor issue.

We hear the feedback. We are aware these measures have not fully resolved the issue, and we are committed to continuing to work to solve this issue.

We have met – on a voluntary basis – with federal and state environmental regulators on multiple occasions to discuss perceived issues. We met with the U.S. EPA in Chicago three times between June and November to talk about issues and identify solutions to move forward. We have also met with the DNR several times to discuss these issues.

What We’re Doing Going Forward

On Nov. 27, the U.S. EPA issued notice of violations regarding air emissions and waste standards. Regarding the air emissions, while we don’t believe the numbers cited by the U.S. EPA in the notices are indicative of our operations, we are scheduled to meet with the U.S. EPA before the end of the year to begin discussing potential long-term solutions.

For the waste regulations, the U.S. EPA’s position is inconsistent with its own Empty Container Rule and imposes standards and process requirements that have not been previously applied to reconditioning facilities in the United States. The containers that are processed by the CLCM facilities meet the Empty Container Rule, and the CLCM facilities follow the best in class industry standard for handling the containers. If the agency desires to change existing regulations, there is an administrative process to do so. To date, no such process has taken place. Once an agreement is reached on both of these matters, we will be sharing the outcome with the community.

Our highest priority has been – and will continue to be – the health and safety of our employees and the communities in which we operate.

To obtain further information, provide feedback or ask questions, please contact us on our hotline at 414.502.7358.

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