SLO chemical spill under scrutiny

A chemical spill at the San Luis Obispo maintenance yard in February of last year is being investigated by the state agency that oversees the disposal of hazardous waste.

According to city officials, up to 3 gallons of creosote (used to preserve wood) and oil-based paints spilled. The spill was contained to an area of pavement, city officials said, and did not spread to nearby soil or waterways.

A complaint was filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Kerry Boyle, the city’s Certified Unified Program Agency representative who investigated the incident internally, determined that the spill did not pose a risk to people or the environment and did not trigger a need for the city to report the incident to the state agencies overseeing such incidents, according to an email from Andrea Visveshwara, assistant city attorney.

The state’s investigation was prompted after a reporter from a local online news site contacted the Department of Toxic Substances Control in mid-December, according to agency spokeswoman Charlotte Fadipe.

The news site ran a story alleging that the chemicals were purposely dumped and the city shirked its requirement to report the incident.“We take the alleged violations seriously,” Fadipe said.

This is the first time the city has been investigated by the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

If the city is found in violation of hazardous waste disposal regulations it could face up to $25,000 a day in fines.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick said the issue was not something she was made aware of last February when it occurred because the staff members involved felt that it was adequately handled.

Dietrick said the city is cooperating with the investigation and no employees involved in the incident have been put on administrative leave or fired.

“We have an absolute obligation to be stewards and set a good example and we take this very seriously,” Dietrick said. “Our obligation is to set a positive example for the community and to ensure that we are complying with regulations.”

Earlier this week Michael Codron, assistant city manager, issued a memo to all employees notifying them of the investigation and complaint filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“The city will receive a report of the investigator’s conclusions, and we will be advised of any alleged violations and provided direction as to any corrections necessary,” Codron wrote in the email.

Codron also encouraged employees to notify supervisors, managers or other city staff of any concerns about safety procedures in place.

Dietrick would not specify whether she instructed Codron to send the memo but did say she thought it was a good idea to let employees know what was happening.