EPA investigating more than 100 discarded drums containing unknown chemicals

EUCLID, Ohio - Inspectors from the Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA converged on a shuttered factory in Euclid Thursday morning to begin the painstaking process of assessing and testing more than 100 drums of chemicals. The chemicals inside the 55-gallon drums were apparently left behind by a former ink and protective coating manufacturer.  

Dodging and tip-toeing around the overgrown weeds and spilled chemicals, inspectors surveyed the cache of metal drums behind the building in the 21000 block of St. Clair Avenue. The property is located in an industrial part of the city, adjacent to often-used railroad tracks.

A spokesman for the Ohio EPA emphasized that there is no immediate threat to public safety.

The agency’s priority is to stabilize the barrels to make sure they don’t leak. It is also important to determine if there are any potentially hazardous materials inside the barrels, the spokesman said. However, at this point it appears the barrels could possibly contain hazardous materials.

“We will continue to work with the property owners, the US EPA and environmental contractors to best stabilize the drums,” the spokesman said. “If the property owner allows us access, we are prepared to begin work immediately.”

According to state records, most of the barrels contain unknown chemicals that appear to have been on the property for more than a year. According to satellite imagery, it appears that the barrels were placed at the rear of the property between the spring and fall of 2016. At that time, the property was owned by a company called Technology Properties LLC.

For many years, a company called Ink Big Corp. operated at the facility. According to published reports, Ink Big was a manufacturer of inks used in printer cartridges. The business also delved into protective coatings. According to state records, some of the labels on the barrels and containers found at the property identified Ink Big as the owner.

It appears the hundreds of gallons of unknown chemicals were left behind by the owners of either Ink Big or Technology Properties.

Ink Big dissolved in 2007, according to business filings sent to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. Technology Properties LLC continued to own the expansive property until 2017. Court records show the bank foreclosed on the property in 2008. The foreclosure action dragged on for years, essentially going dormant from 2009 through 2017. That’s when Cuyahoga County foreclosed on the unpaid property taxes, which at the time totaled more than $100,000.

The property then went through a forfeited land sale where it was purchased by Greg Gibson and his wife, Shannon, for $29,000 in late 2017. Since then, the property has been nothing short of a disaster, Shannon Gibson said.

“It’s a nightmare. We’re dealing with a nightmare right now on our hands,” Gibson said.

In late February, the Ohio EPA did an unannounced inspection at the property and discovered the barrels. At that point, the Gibsons had no idea the barrels contained anything, let alone potentially harmful chemicals. According to state records, some of the identifiable chemicals are considered combustible or harmful to humans or wildlife.

Dozens of the 55-gallon drums were leaking the unknown chemicals into the soil or storm water that had ponded on the property.

According to state records, the Ohio EPA has tried reaching out to the prior property owner, Ron Ryavec, but has been unsuccessful at reaching him. Ryavec also did not respond to calls seeking comment.

“We tried to contact the old owner of the property just to get documentation of what’s in the barrels,” Gibson said. “We want to know if he knew anything about them. We can’t get into contact with him.”

Testing and removing the barrels, in addition to potentially having to remediate the soil, could be a six-figure endeavor. Just having 60 of the barrels tested would cost $33,000, Gibson said. The total project is expected to exceed $100,000.

The Gibsons had plans on renovating the property and possibly put it back on the market and the City of Euclid’s tax roll. Paying to address the barrels and possible environmental contamination puts all those plans in limbo.

“We’re more of the type of people that want to move forward, but how can you move forward with something this big?” Gibson said. “This is a big loss.”

As for who would pay for the potential clean up of the barrels, the Ohio EPA spokesman said it is too early to say. First, the agency will have to stabilize the drums and secure the barrels. Then, it will have to determine what is inside the barrels and the best way to deal with the situation.

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