– by Tony Schick & Conrad Wilson, February 2, 2016, OPB
The state inspector thought his visit to Odessa, Washington, would be routine: a knock on the door, a chat with the operators, a look around the corrugated metal warehouse where they ran a biodiesel plant.
But when Jerry French arrived at the TransMessis Columbia Plateau facility in eastern Washington this past March, the door was locked. It seemed abandoned, but he could see chemical drums inside through the windows.
It just didn’t look right, he thought.
After getting the door unlocked, French discovered the mess.
He saw sulfuric acid leaking from crusted valves. He found chemicals stored beside each other in corroded containers that could catch fire or explode if they mixed. Storage tanks holding thousands of gallons of methanol and other dangerous chemicals were left outside unsecured.
French, a longtime inspector with the Washington Department of Ecology, knew these were red flags. The site was a threat to human health and the environment and needed to be cleaned up. He alerted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later that day.
He sent an email with 18 different bullet points, each detailing a potentially dangerous situation at the abandoned plant.
“Serious issues with chemical waste management were observed inside the facility,” he wrote.