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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 27, 2001

Brewer subsidiary fined $235,000 for acid spill

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has fined Brewer Environmental Industries nearly $236,000 as a result of the massive Thanksgiving Day 1999 sulfuric acid spill at Brewer's Campbell Industrial Park facility.

The fine also covered inspection violations at Brewer facilities on Maui, Kaua'i and Hilo. The subsidiary of C. Brewer & Co. Ltd has agreed to pay $98,796 for nine violations and purchase $137,000 in equipment for all four county fire departments.

On Nov. 25, 1999, workers at neighboring Chevron Refinery discovered that sulfuric acid had leaked into a concrete sump and gravel trench along Brewer's fence line. The 35 tons of acid mixed with chlorine bleach and created a huge plume of toxic chlorine gas.

At the time, state health officials said the gas cloud posed a serious health risk, but there were no reports of injuries.

The spill was reported to Brewer officials at about 1:30 p.m. that day, but the federal National Response Center did not receive word of the spill until more than 11 hours later. Federal law requires immediate notice.

In addition to the spill, Brewer was cited for failing to accurately list hazardous chemicals stored at its facilities in Hilo, Maui and Kaua'i. At Brewer's Port Allen facility in Kaua'i, the EPA said the company did not address the risk posed by the amount of anhydrous ammonia stored there.

"It is important for a facility to disclose information about the release and storage of its hazardous substances so emergency responders and the general public can be properly protected," said Keith Takata, director of EPA's Pacific Southwest regional Superfund program.

Although coming down hard on the company, the EPA credited Brewer for improvements made to reduce the threat of accidents. Brewer has spent about $1 million to upgrade its plant since the spill.

The firm also hired Dennis Poma to fill the newly created position of vice president, facilities and regulatory compliance. Poma said yesterday that Brewer agreed to the fines and purchase of equipment for the counties.

"We really thought that rather than just providing the money to the government, that under this program that deals with emergency response, we would really like to see the counties take advantage of the donations and the goodwill that we're able to offer under the program," Poma said.

In addition to the federal fines, the state Department of Health fined Brewer $7,000 for failing to report the spill in a timely manner.

In other action, the EPA fined two other businesses for allegedly selling unregistered insecticides. They are:

• Marukai Corp. in Honolulu, a proposed penalty of $34,650 for selling seven moth repellents.

• Hing Mau Inc. of Maunakea Street, a proposed fine of $9,900 for selling two moth repellents.

The EPA said the illegal naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene mothballs can poison children who may mistake them for toys or food. The EPA is continuing settlement negotiations with the two firms.