The release of a “chemical irritant” at Interplastic Corporation in March 2019 required a “shelter in place” order for residents and businesses of West Latonia.
Although options are limited, City taking steps
COVINGTON, Ky. – Even while acknowledging “limited options” and “tied hands,” Covington officials say they’re taking steps in response to complaints about odors and emissions from a Fort Wright chemical plant located near the Latonia neighborhood.
An incident in January that required a “shelter-in-place” order and a massive response from regional fire and hazardous materials teams brought new attention on the plant, which has been a source of complaints for decades related to odors, emissions, noise, and perceived safety threats.
Interplastic Corporation, located at 3535 Latonia Ave., manufactures polyester resins used for plastic parts for boats, spas and other things. Among the chemicals it uses is an organic compound called styrene.
After inquiries from the Covington Board of Commissioners, the City’s Legal and Fire departments recently updated the Commission on steps the City is taking and/or participating in:
- Working with Kenton County Homeland Security & Emergency Management to obtain a detection meter similar to one that was carried in the past on the Haz-Mat truck housed by the Fire Department, Chief Mark Pierce said. This meter can be equipped with a styrene chip that can detect levels more accurately than the Draeger tubes used in the past to measure toxic levels of chemicals in the air, Pierce said.
- Working with Interplastic to schedule tours of the plant to refamiliarize firefighters with the plant’s layout and operations, Pierce said.
- To discuss general concerns, Pierce said the County is also facilitating a meeting that could include representatives from Interplastic, Fort Wright, and Covington.
- Setting up a meeting with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection to discuss how to handle any future odor complaints and whether there was anything the City or the state could do to improve their response on neighbors’ behalf, City Solicitor David Davidson said.
Since his arrival at the City on March 1, Davidson has been in ongoing discussion with officials from Fort Wright, neighboring residents, and attorneys who were involved in a lawsuit filed by neighbors in 1997 and settled for $4.75 million in 2004. The settlement included a consent decree requiring the company, among other things, to make regular reports to Fort Wright.
Davidson formally requested records from Fort Wright that were recently delivered. His investigation and research is continuing, he said, and he plans to set up meetings with officials from the plant to discuss concerns.
Covington’s elected officials had asked Davidson and City Manager Ken Smith to research potential steps that Covington could take, including the possibility of a City lawsuit.
Davidson’s 24-minute presentation can be heard by skipping to minute 7:40 of the MAY 10 MEETING VIDEO.
But Davidson cautioned the Commission that Covington was limited in its legal authority: Noise from “normal” operations of a manufacturing plant does not fall under the City’s noise ordinances, and the City has neither the equipment nor the expertise to determine what is “acceptable” odor and what isn’t. level
“That’s what the EPA is for,” he said. “Even ‘safe’ styrene operations produces an odor. … They have a right to operate.”
Davidson said neighbors should continue to call the state Department for Environmental Protection to report issues. The Department’s “environmental emergencies” hotline is (800) 928-2380 or (502) 564-2380. Chief Pierce said residents also could call 911 and request a Covington Fire unit to come to their residence to make a formal report.
Residents can also continue to email Covington’s elected leaders with concerns at CityCommissioners@covingtonky.gov.
The Commission took turns responding to the representation and asking questions:
Vice Mayor Ron Washington thanked Davidson for his presentation and said that he and others on the Commission received a lot of calls about the plastics plant. “It does appear that our hands are tied in a lot of ways but I thought it was important that our citizens of Latonia understand that we do care and that we’re looking at it and we will continue to look at it,” he said. “And I also think it’s important that our Fire Department gets in there as you reported to take a look around …” Washington asked Smith to direct the City’s Communications team to summarize efforts for residents.
Commissioner Michelle Williams asked for clarification regarding a list of nine odor complaints reported by Interplastic since Jan. 1, 2022, and pointed out that one complaint came to the plant directly, which wouldn’t result in a third-party investigation. She said the City should encourage residents to make complaints to environmental or emergency officials.
Mayor Joe Meyer said too often odors and emissions dissipate before an expert can be called in to investigate, especially when a complaint is made after hours. “Reports of bad odor are inherently difficult to prove,” he said. He suggested that the City meet with state environmental inspectors to get advice and see whether there’s a way to speed up their response. He said he was surprised by the number of complaints made already this year.