HARTFORD, Conn.—Connecticut officials are investigating Exeter Energy L.P. after the firm sold thousands of tons of tire ash to a Washington state company that converted the ash to plant fertilizer. From 1994 to August 1997, Exeter Energy sold between 10,000 and 12,000 tons of tire fly ash to Moxee, Wash.-based Bay Zinc Corp. without reporting the material as a hazardous waste, according to Ross Bunnell, senior sanitary engineer at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
Exeter Energy operates a tire-to-energy plant in Sterling, Conn., which burns an estimated 3 million to 10 million tires annually, he said.
Zinc contained in the ash is beneficial to plants, but the material also included high levels of lead and cadmium, which is poisonous to humans, according to Brian Dick, a hazardous waste specialist at the Washington Department of Ecology. The lead and cadmium levels were about 30 percent above standard limits, he said.
Bay Zinc, located 150 miles east of Seattle, labeled the contents of the fertilizer as low-heavy metals but made no mention of tire ash, Dick said.
The company mixed the ash with sulfuric acid and water to produce the fertilizer but never reported the product as a hazardous waste to Washington state officials, according to Greg Sorlie, program manager of hazardous and toxic waste at the Department of Ecology.
In August, the Washington agency notified Bay Zinc to stop processing the tire ash until it can show through testing that the ash is a viable product for fertilizer, Dick said.
Both states are reviewing the extent of each company's violations before officials decide what action to take.
Prior to this case, no environmental regulation violations by Exeter Energy have been reported, said John Serumgard, Scrap Tire Management Council chairman.
The STMC isn't aware of any other U.S. firms that process tire ash into fertilizer, he said.
Prior to its business venture with Bay Zinc, Exeter Energy reclaimed the ash's zinc and sold the element to Pennsylvania-based Zinc Corp. of America, Bunnell said.
To sell the ash legally to Bay Zinc, according to Bunnell, Exeter Energy should have complied with the following regulations:
provide a hazardous waste manifest documenting all handlers from the point of generation to the point of disposal;
use a hazardous waste transporter; and
comply with on-site regulations, such as inspecting the material and storing it in proper units.
Exeter Energy officials did not return phone calls.