Two men have been charged with illegally discharging petroleum and other potentially hazardous substances from their southeast Fairfax scrap metal business, and state officials said there are serious cleanup problems at the site.
"This is serious enough for us to believe it will be a long-term cleanup," said Kathleen O'Connell, a senior enforcement specialist for the state Water Control Board in Richmond. "The soil is saturated. I believe that if you dug a hole a foot down, you'd actually see petroleum."
In a second fuel spill, a small tanker truck struck an awning at a West End Alexandria condominium complex yesterday, rupturing the tanker and spilling about 280 gallons of heating oil into a nearby storm drain, fire officials said.
State officials said that some of the substances at the Fairfax site may have drained into Giles Run, a small stream that empties into the Occoquan River about three miles north of the Potomac, roughly where Interstate 95 crosses the Occoquan. Officials said none of the substances entered the county's drinking water supply, the intake for which is upstream from Giles Run.
O'Connell said preliminary tests indicate the site also may be contaminated with PCBs, a highly toxic fluid once used to insulate electrical transformers.
State and county officials said that the men and the business, Davis Industries, were ordered about two weeks ago to stop discharging the substances and begin cleanup operations. Despite that order, the materials still were being discharged, officials said.
Fire officials revoked three permits that the company, at 9920 Richmond Hwy., needs to operate, effectively closing the business, said department spokeswoman Pam Wieger. She said the department's Hazardous Materials Unit built dikes at the site to contain the substances.
Wieger said company President Ben Ettleman, 68, and Vice President Fred Bonnett, 46, were charged by the county fire marshal with misdemeanor counts of allowing the discharge of flammable, combustible or petroleum products on the ground and failure to comply with previous orders to stop such activities.
The men were ordered to appear at a hearing in General District Court on Nov. 13, Wieger said.
State and local officials said they became aware of problems at the site when officials from the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Co., which has a rail line abutting the business, complained that a black substance was seeping onto their property.
Fire officials visited the site on July 18 and the next day ordered the company to stop the leaks, Wieger said.
State water officials also inspected the site and found a containment pond with water, oil and other car fluids, O'Connell said. She said liquid from the pond was processed through an oil-water separator, "and presumably clean water was discharged into Giles Run."
Although such a system is legal if it meets certain requirements, she said, the business did not have the necessary permits to operate it. It was unclear, she said, whether the stream was contaminated.
Wieger said a return visit to the site Thursday turned up additional violations.
A man who answered the phone at the business and identified himself as one of the owners said that if there is a problem, "it will be resolved as soon as we do some tests and know what to do." He declined to comment further.
Davis Industries is one of the primary scrap metal recycling centers in the county, with metal shredders that can handle 40 to 50 tons of metal an hour. The shredders pound the metal into fist-size fragments and separate them into three piles: steel, other metals, and nonmetal materials such as fabric, glass and foam rubber.
Fairfax Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), whose district includes the 18-acre company grounds, said such recycling businesses are important to reduce waste and save space in the county's landfills, "but they are only going to stay in Fairfax County if they meet the rules, and I'm not going to budge on that one inch."
The Alexandria incident occurred just after 10 a.m. outside the Fountains condominium at 301 N. Beauregard St., where the truck had siphoned heating oil out of a leaking underground tank, fire officials said.
Some of the heating oil reached Holmes Run, a stream leading to Lake Cook, but was contained by a hazardous materials unit of the city fire department. Booms were placed across Holmes Run at Van Dorn Street to absorb the heating oil, officials said.
No charges were filed against the truck driver, and there were no injuries or evacuations.