A St. Paul building loaded with hazardous chemicals and a former owner with no money for cleanup have prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in with a "time-critical removal action."
Within the next two weeks, crews are expected to begin removing more than 80 open vats and sealed barrels containing chemicals such as chromium and cyanide from the former Plating Inc. building on N. Prior Avenue near Pierce Butler in the city's Midway neighborhood. Federal, state and local officials will hold a community meeting Tuesday evening to share details about the work and how soon they expect to complete it.
According to information from the EPA, the work could take up to 65 days.
The site at 888 N. Prior Av. — a 21,000-square-foot cinder block and brick building on the southeast corner of Prior and Taylor — has been a plating shop since 1938, most recently specializing in zinc and chromate plating of aluminum, according to the EPA. The owner of Plating Inc. went out of business and abandoned the facility in April 2016, later telling officials that he had no money to clean up the hazardous waste inside.
Over the past couple of years, there have been break-ins at the building, as well as copper theft. The EPA recently hired a security company, Excalibur Protective Agency, to provide round-the-clock guard. Excalibur owner Maurice Burns, who was at the building Friday morning, said his company has been on the job since Tuesday.
Anne Dufresne lives behind the building and has lived there off and on for 30 years. She confirmed that EPA officials recently went door-to-door in the neighborhood, telling neighbors about the planned chemical removal and to answer questions. Because of that, Dufresne said, she has little concern about the vats stored within the building's walls.
"It's already been there for years. I don't understand what all the fuss is about," she said, adding that she is more interested in learning what will replace Plating Inc. in the building across the alley from her home.
Linda Steinbach said she feels better knowing that the EPA is taking action. The longtime employee of Metal Treaters Inc. next door said she used to work at a plating company. "I know the kinds of stuff they use," she said. "We're happy to see that it's all going to be cleaned up."
During removal, EPA officials said they will be conducting air monitoring in the building and at the perimeter "to ensure that residents and nearby business occupants are not exposed," according to a memorandum by David Morrison, an emergency response coordinator with the EPA. "EPA will also develop a contingency plan to notify all state, county and local officials and residents if there is an emergency."
The cleanup will be conducted during normal business hours to minimize disturbance to the neighborhood and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The office of U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum will host a neighborhood meeting Tuesday, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the nearby Newell Park Building, 900 Fairview Av. N. For more information, residents are asked to contact McCollum's office at 651-224-9191.