Refuse Reclaimed in Osceola

September 10, 2003 - Posted at:7:30pm

OSCEOLA, AR -- After more than six months of investigations and hearings, un-burned waste is being removed from an Osceola warehouse.

"We've been waiting long enough for it. I'm glad to see that some of it's gone. I hope that all of it, they'll end up getting all of it out," said resident Debbie Robertson.

Workers from the El Dorado based company, Teris-Ensco, began loading boxes of expired vitamins and other medications on Tuesday. They sent it to Arkansas Municipal Waste to Energy in Osceola months, maybe years ago, to be incinerated. Now they're back to take care of it themselves.

Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Hazardous Waste Division Inspector, Ben Chandler, is overseeing the project. He explained that ADEQ policy states that companies are responsible for their own waste. So far, 2 semi-trucks full of items have been hauled off from this sight.

"What all's in this warehouse? That's a good question. We're still figuring that out. There's a lot of stuff in there," Chandler said, laughing.

There are 55 gallon drums, bags and other types of containers which contain things ranging from work gloves to medical instruments to petroleum products. Owner Wally Elbeck said in 1999 he paid the City of Osceola to incinerate about 30 semi-truck loads of waste, but it never did. He claimed that some of the medical waste wasn't burned, because he was waiting on permits from the Arkansas Department of Health.

"We told him that we have a permit pending, and he assured us that if anybody called, he was going to tell them we have a permit," Elbeck explained, referring to Patrick Harris, Arkansas Department of Health. "That was said in court."

Harris said Elbeck never had the required licenses to handle medical waste.

"We ended up with a board of health hearing where the State Board of Health imposed a $75,000 fine," said Harris.

Harris sent letters to 40 companies in 5 states asking them to claim their waste. Most of them have agreed. Governor Mike Huckabee has given $20,000 from an emergency fund to cover the cost of removing any items that remain.

Patrick Harris has secured the openings to the warehouse. Ben Chandler isn't sure when all of the waste inside will be removed.

"My worries won't be subsided until all the stuff's out; until some of the people's been tested to see what we've been exposed to," added Debbie Robertson.