Copper waste cleanup ordered at defunct Photocircuits plant

The new owners of the former Photocircuits manufacturing facility in Peachtree City’s industrial park have been required to take corrective measures after contamination from the building has been detected off-site as the building is being demolished.

A sample of a nearby stormwater junction box showed the presence of higher than allowed concentrations of copper, according to a violation notice the city sent to new property owners Tim and Elaine Powers.

In trace amounts, copper is an essential nutrient, but in larger amounts the element can be toxic.

The city has issued a stop work order on the demolition activity and is requiring removal and legal disposal of several 55-gallon drums containing unknown chemicals along with storage tanks and piping from the site.

The site is also under investigation for an illicit sewer discharge as high levels of copper have been showing up at the city’s sewage treatment plant, according to officials with the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority.

WASA’s investigation is what sparked the city to conduct an on-site inspection May 22 at the former Photocircuits manufacturing plant.

Because the stormwater from the site is eventually discharged into Line Creek, the Fayette County Water System has been testing water in the area to make sure no contaminants are found, said Water System Director Tony Parrott. The tests began as soon as the city gave the water system notice, and there have been no contaminants found, Parrott said.

When the city inspected the site May 22, a liquid creating a blue-green stain was found to be leaking from one of the storage tanks, and a brown, black and gray sludge dripping from several pipes that had been removed from the building, according to a violation notice authored by the city. The inspection was triggered by a notice from the city’s sewer system, which had detected elevated copper levels and traced the source back to the former Photocircuits plant.

The city is requiring the property owners to seal all open pipe ends as well as openings in the storage tanks, according to a notice of violation letter the city sent to the property owners.

The city also required the owners to plug all storm drain piping so no stormwater runoff can leave the property, and also to remove the 55 gallon drums containing unknown substances. Also on a task list is the cleaning of both storm drainage systems located in the rear of the building including the underground piping, and all wash water from that cleaning must also be prevented from leaving the site.

Building owner Elaine Powers said the storage tanks had been allowed to remain outdoors “for six years” after Photocircuits closed, and they sat in a pile with the removed pipes for about two weeks before they were scheduled to be removed. But the city’s violation letter put a halt to the removal, as they were slated to be carted off two days before the city took its action, Powers said.

The tanks had been removed from concrete slabs and put onto asphalt surrounding the building “to make it easier for the environmental people to pick up everything at one time,” Powers said.

The drums of unknown chemicals are in the process of being removed but engineers have not performed an on-site evaluation yet, Powers said.

“They have to be handled properly,” Powers said. “We’re trying to do it in a responsible manner.” … It’s kind of difficult when you have seven different agencies coming at you with something different.”

Some of the other material has been removed in some eight trailer loads that were hauled off in one day, Powers said.

Powers blamed environmental regulators for failing to require the previous property owners to clean up the site.

Powers estimated the 55-gallon drums of unknown chemicals would probably be removed in the next two weeks via a process required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In the meantime, the city is requiring a plan to be developed to address not just offsite contamination but also contamination in the pretreatment facility and building on the site. That plan is to be submitted to the city for review prior to implementation, according to the notice of violation letter.

Powers noted that she didn’t even own the building when the spikes of copper levels were first seen last summer at the city’s sewer treatment plant.

The pretreatment facility at Photocircuits was used to remove metals from the wastewater left over from the manufacturing process before it was sent for treatment at the city’s sewer treatment plant.

An EPA emergency response official visited the site with the owners and city officials and told The Citizen that the EPA will not get involved because the city is appropriately handling the matter.

The city has not issued any penalties yet for the stormwater violation but if the remediation work is not completed future penalties could be assessed.

Powers said the condition of the building was deplorable with roof leaks causing interior flooding. Photocircuits left the building in shambles, leaving behind furniture, debris, trash and enough computers to fill an entire tractor trailer, Powers said. The computers were recently hauled away.

“All we’ve been doing is trying to get the garbage out of the building and clean it up so it can become a valuable piece of the community,” Powers said. “I have lived here since 1969 and I grew up in Peachtree City, and I was sick and tired of seeing how nasty it looked.”