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Feds call Pyrotechnic site in Byron a public health threat

The federal Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday issued an order against Pyrotechnic Specialties Inc. in Byron, stating that “an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment exists at the facility.”

EPA spokeswoman Laura Niles said there is an imminent threat of another explosion at the factory that makes munitions, fuses, flares and other devices.

An explosion there in August 2006 destroyed one of its buildings, created a 500-foot mushroom cloud and sent shock waves for 15 miles. The blast happened in the middle of the night, and no one was injured.

David Karlson, chief executive officer of PSI, said Wednesday that “there is no immediate threat. There is no danger. That’s an exaggeration.”

Karlson had not yet seen the order, which was mailed Wednesday. He said the company’s only continuing problem is a dozen barrels of material that have been stored longer than the law permits. He said the company has been working to transport them to a disposal facility but is awaiting approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The EPA’s order is based mostly on April and May inspections of PSI. The order describes hazardous and reactive waste being stored in containers that were leaking, rusting and bulging.

Reactive hazardous waste was being stored in garbage bags, ammunition boxes and other containers of up to 55 gallons.

“These conditions ... are potentially dangerous and could cause another major explosion,” the order states. “In the event of an explosion, toxic gases and fumes could be generated in a quantity sufficient to present danger to the neighboring residents,” about 630 people who live within a mile of the factory.

In addition, EPA inspectors found the factory was not equipped with any fire control, spill control or decontamination equipment, as required by federal law for companies that generate a significant amount of hazardous waste.

Lack of aisle space at the factory and lack of labeling or inventory for the waste could also jeopardize emergency responders because they would not know the nature, amount or location of reactive materials, the order states.

Niles said the reason for the lag between the May inspections and the order was because EPA was building its case. She added that the company “has not been uncooperative.”

Karlson said the enforcement order was a surprise because the company already had corrected most of the problems the EPA found and had supplied additional information in July.

PSI shipped out a lot of waste during the past year, Karlson said. “And I think it would be fair to say if you came in today, everything would be properly labeled.”

Karlson called the EPA characterization of risk “a little harsh” and noted that the EPA unsuccessfully brought criminal charges involving some of the same barrels last year. The charges were dismissed along with a larger case alleging that the munitions manufacturer had defrauded the government by selling relabeled, defective diversionary grenades to the FBI and at least two civilian departments.

When the charges were dismissed in January, the judge criticized how the government had pursued the case.

Karlson said the company didn’t remove the outdated waste last year because PSI’s attorney advised that the action might be construed as destroying evidence in a criminal case.

The factory had been shut down by the government but reopened in January, Karlson said. It once employed about 220 workers; now it has 95, although Karlson said he plans to hire 50 more by the end of October.

The EPA order requires that within five days, PSI must submit a written intent to comply and must have each individual container of waste labeled properly.

Within 15 days a full inventory of each container of waste, the amount of material in it and other details must be submitted to EPA. Hazardous waste must be shipped out within 60 days.

The company could face fines and other penalties if it fails to meet any part of the order.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report. To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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