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Covington homeowners want answers after long history of chemical plant issues

Posted at 11:57 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 23:57:19-04

COVINGTON, Ky. — There’s a foul smell in Covington. Latonia homeowners say it’s their next-door neighbor — not another homeowner, but a nearby chemical plant.

Interplastic Corporation uses styrene and other chemicals to make polyester resins, which are then used to make plastic parts for boats, trucks, pools, spas and bridges. It’s a process that can emit an odor.

In January, an explosion at the facility occurred when 31,000 pounds of liquid resin began to harden inside a storage tank, according to fire officials. Since then, Covington leaders said they’ve received documents from Fort Wright highlighting nine homeowner complaints.

Homeowners in the Latonia neighborhood of Covington have also filed complaints. David Davidson, Covington’s city solicitor, said during a May 10 commission meeting a consent decree was entered in 2004.

“That requires Interplastic to make certain reports. Requires it to make available the facility for the fire departments of City of Fort Wright, and the City of Covington,” Davidson said. “That was entered in 2004. As far as I know, not much has been done with that.”

Covington leaders want that to change. They’re hoping to get the fire department to inspect the facility on a regular basis.

“It’s an industrial plant and it’s located right next to a residential neighborhood,” Fort Wright Fire Chief Stephen Schewe said. “So, you know they’re constantly under scrutiny because of these smells. I can tell you over the years they’ve taken many steps to try to mitigate these odors from leaving the plant.”

U.S. EPA records show styrene emissions hit a nine-year high in 2019 when the company reported the release of 15,505 pounds of the chemical linked to headaches, nausea, weakness and depression. That same year, an equipment failure at the plant caused a chemical release and shelter-in-place order, similar to the explosion back in January. Styrene emissions declined 15% in 2020 but still reached their second-highest level since 2011.

Despite all of that, the plant had no air pollution violations in the last three years. EPA records show Clean Water Act violations in 12 of the past 13 quarters. In June, the company paid a $10,000 penalty over zinc emissions to the Lower Banklick Creek, EPA records show.

As of Wednesday night, Minnesota-based Interplastic Corporation, has not responded to WCPO 9’s questions.

During the May 10 commission meeting, Davidson showed a document highlighting nine complaints from homeowners. That document was provided by the City of Fort Wright and is property of Interplastic Corporation.

Multiple commissioners raised concerns about a self-reporting document: “If they call the plant directly, of course they’re going to say they’re not doing anything wrong. Why would they?”

Davidson said the business has the right to operate in a lawful manner. The city is trying to figure out how their next-door neighbor can be a little more ‘neighborly.'

“They’ll continue to fight that they’re making their product in a lawful way, complying with all the regulations and rules imposed on them. They have the right to operate in a lawful manner,” said Davidson.

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