Company that reportedly gave OK to torch has controversial past


by Adam Walser

Posted on November 5, 2012 at 7:15 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 5 at 7:38 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- A company with a controversial past was involved in the clean-up effort after a train derailment last week which eventually prompted an evacuation.

The I-Team has learned that CTEH, a national company involved in several recent high-profile environmental incidents, may now be part of the focus of an investigation into what went wrong after last week's train derailment near the Jefferson-Hardin County line.

"The information we received earlier as this incident unfolded was incorrect," said Jefferson County EMA Director Doug Hamilton last Thursday, hours after a tanker car carrying volatile chemicals caught fire.

"They were given some information that the air was clear at that time," said P & L Railroad Vice President Gerald Gupton during a briefing last week.

Chemical readings taken at the scene Wednesday led contractors to use acetylene torches to attempt to cut up a tanker carrying butadiene.

The spark caused a flash fire, which sent three workers to the hospital and prompted a 1.2 mile evacuation, as flames crept dangerously close to another tanker carrying hydrogen fluoride, one of the most dangerous chemicals used in industry.

"It was in-pinging upon the HF car," Hamilton said of the burning tanker.

An explosion involving an HF tanker would have been devastating for the small town of West Point and much of Pleasure Ridge Park.

When asked who gave the go-ahead for using torches last week, Gupton said, " Some air monitoring individuals with CTEH." CTEH stands for Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health.

The company professes to be a national leader in disaster response, but WHAS11 has discovered the company also has been cited in a long line of controversial cases, including as an expert in the 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee, in which an EPA audit discovered the company failed to meet quality assurance procedures when it gave the TVA a clean bill of health after the spill.

The company was also cited for using bad sampling techniques to evaluate contamination at a refinery following Hurricane Katrina.

CTEH even represented a company that imported hazardous drywall from China and found no issues with the product, even though the EPA later concluded it was toxic.

More recently, the company was hired by BP in the wake of the Gulf oil spill to evaluate clean-up workers' health exposures. At the time, two members of Congress sent a letter to BP's chairman urging him not to use CTEH because of its "history of being hired by companies accused of harming public health."

P&L Railroad CEO Tony Reck says it's too early to assign blame, but the company's involvement in testing at the derailment site will certainly be questioned.

"That will be part of the investigation as we tie this whole thing back together," Reck said.

WHAS11 contacted CTEH for a comment Monday, but they told us all inquiries would have to be directed to P&L Railroad.

Photos of West Point train derailment

Photos: Aftermath of train derailment fire