Amount of dumped waste unclear

YOUNGSTOWN – Crews have sucked more than 100,000 gallons from storm drains and the Mahoning River during their cleanup of improperly discharged oilfield waste, but that amount does not necessarily reflect the amount that was sent down a Youngstown storm drain.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Monday crews collected and removed more than 100,000 gallons of oil and water from the creek and storm sewer, but noted that is a combination of creek water and oil waste and is ”mostly water from the creek.”

Chris Abbruzzese, spokesman for the Ohio EPA, also noted the collection amounts would include river runoff, soil, sediment and other materials.

The U.S. and state EPA agencies are jointly overseeing cleanup of brine and crude oil drained into a storm sewer Jan. 31 at 2761 Salt Springs Road. Records show Ben Lupo, owner of Hardrock Excavating LLC, acknowledged directing employees to discard the waste into a storm sewer at Lupo’s business address. Since then, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources permanently revoked the oilfield waste disposal permits for two of Lupo’s businesses, Hardrock Excavating and D&L Energy, both with addresses at 2761 Salt Springs Road.

Officials involved in the cleanup still have not put a number on the quantity they believe was discharged.

”As part of the investigation, they are trying to determine how much of the material was illegally discharged,” Abbruzzese said Monday. ”I have never put a number on it because we just don’t know yet. … I have been told we probably wouldn’t know until they are done.”

Crews worked through the weekend and are expected to continue on the job this week. A statement released by the U.S. EPA said work has been hampered by difficult access to the creek located 30 to 40 feet below street level in a small valley. The discharge flowed from the storm sewer into a small creek and ultimately into the Mahoning River in the Belle Vista neighborhood of Youngstown.

Officials with the state EPA and ODNR said they have not yet received lab reports indicating the contents of the brine, or oilfield waste.

Abbruzzese said he understands the concern from nearby residents.

”Anytime you have an illegal discharge like that, there’s reason to be concerned, but the good thing is, if there is anything good, is this is in an industrial park with limited access,” Abbruzzese said.

Officials from the state EPA and city officials including the fire department, mayor’s office and prosecutor’s office, met in Youngstown City Hall chambers Monday afternoon for a technical briefing. Abbruzzese described the meeting as “purely informational on the cleanup.”

He declined to comment on the status of criminal charges or discussions with local prosecutors, describing it as “an ongoing criminal investigation.”

No criminal charges have been filed. State charges could bring a one-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine. Federal charges could bring up to a $50,000 fine per day of the violation and three years in prison.

Federal charges could be applicable because the federal Clean Water Act governs all waters, including interstate lakes, rivers, streams, including intermittent streams and wetlands which could affect commerce, recreational purposes, fishing or industry.