A year ago, it was described as the biggest environmental scandal Virginia had ever seen. Now, Avtex Fibers of Front Royal, Va., is just another complicated bankruptcy and hazardous waste case.
Avtex, once the nation's largest rayon manufacturer, shut down abruptly Nov. 10, 1989, a day after the state Water Control Board revoked its discharge permit for dumping PCBs into the Shenandoah River.
Two weeks later, a Richmond Circuit Court judge fined Avtex $6.15 million for illegally discharging the toxic chemical, polychlorinated biphenyls, once used in electrical equipment but banned a decade ago. It was the largest civil fine for an environmental case in the state.
Avtex filed for bankruptcy in February, listing debts of more than $60 million.
This month, the Environmental Protection Agency removed the last of the 370 tons of potentially explosive carbon disulfide from the site, and released a plan for the next phase of the lengthy cleanup.
The cost so far is $9 million, a fraction of the predicted total. PCBs likely will pollute the river for years, and an advisory against eating fish from the Shenandoah remains in effect.
Edward DiDonato, a Philadelphia lawyer for the federal trustee overseeing the bankruptcy case, said the major parties are close to agreement on how to sell the company's assets and divide the take.
Because the mortgage-holders with first claim on Avtex assets would likely be scared off by potential liability for future environmental problems, EPA's cleanup fund probably would have top claim on the money, he said. Other creditors, including the state, would come next if anything was left.
Of the 400 workers on the job when Avtex closed, the Shenandoah Valley Private Industry Council has helped 281 find other jobs; two dozen more are in job training.
Special health care coverage arranged by the workers' union expires this month. The local economy, after a jolt, has recovered, officials say.
Avtex was the nation's only supplier of a crucial carbonized yarn used in rocket nozzles by the Air Force, Navy and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Avtex's would-be replacement, North American Rayon of Elizabethtown, Tenn., expects its product to be fully certified sometime in 1991, technical manager Bob Looney said. Meanwhile, he said, federal agencies have stockpiles to see them through.