One cleanup has led to another – and a bill of over $300,000 – for the Calpine power plant in Westbrook.
Maintenance work done there this month resulted in rust spewing from the plant’s exhaust stacks and mixing with rain, creating a residue that coated about 300 cars in an employee parking lot at nearby Idexx Laboratories.
Calpine is paying between $1,000 and $1,500 to have each of the cars detailed, said John Flumerfelt, a spokesman for the company.
“We feel really, really bad that this happened,” he said Thursday, adding that the substance posed no environmental or health risks. He said the company reported the incident to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which did not have concerns.
“Based on the information we have received, this was an isolated event and not ongoing or systemic and would not have lasting impacts on the environment or human health,” DEP spokesman David Madore said in an email Thursday.
Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant said city staff also reviewed the situation and is confident the substance was not hazardous.
Flumerfelt said the maintenance that was performed is done every five to eight years by an outside contractor, Wisconsin-based Precision Iceblast Corp., which sprays dry ice onto metal boiler tubes to remove any rust. Usually the residual rust falls to the bottom of the boiler and gets swept away, but for some reason, not all of it fell.
When Calpine restarted its plant April 12 after the maintenance was complete, the residue spewed out of the stacks. It mixed with rain that day and was carried by the wind, turning into a thin film when it landed on cars a couple of hundred yards away in part of the employee parking lot at Idexx. A handful of cars parked at Calpine also were affected, Flumerfelt said.
Both companies are located in the Five Star Industrial Park on Eisenhower Drive.
MAINTENANCE COMPANY CALLS IT A ‘FIRST’
Precision Iceblast warned Calpine employees not to park their cars too close to the exhaust stacks, but having so much residue affect cars so far away is not something either company had seen.
“We clean hundreds of power plants all over the world and this is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Keith Boye, vice president of sales for Precision Iceblast. He said he has been in touch with Calpine, a Texas-based corporation and regular customer of Precision Iceblast.
Boye doesn’t know why the exhaust stacks spewed more rust than usual. As far as preventing it from happening again, he said, “I don’t know what you could do.”
Pete Dewitt, a spokesman for Idexx, said the veterinary products manufacturer is working with Calpine to clean the cars of the “substantial number of employees” who were affected.
“The solution is more than a simple car wash,” he said.
Corey Nickerson, owner of Detail Maine in Windham, has completed the work on four cars from the lot and has 20 more booked.
“That number just grows by the hour,” he said, noting it’s already a busy time of year with people getting out boats and cars for the summer.
Removing the residue, which contains iron deposits and possibly some acid, starts with using a chemical cleaner, followed by a clay bar that can pick up what’s left, Nickerson said.
He then neutralizes the acid in the paint with another cleaner, polishes the paint and waxes it.
The process takes a full work day for each car.
He said in hotter weather there’s a greater chance of the iron starting to creep into the paint, causing it to rust. Acid can pit the paint and the glass on the car.
If nothing were done, the residue could cause permanent damage over time, Nickerson said.
“As long as it’s taken off, and taken off properly and protected after, it’s just an inconvenience,” he said.
‘CALPINE HAS HANDLED THIS SITUATION’
Nickerson believes that if it hadn’t rained, no one would have noticed, and some still might not have if Calpine didn’t respond to the situation.
It took a few days for Ryan Dumond, who works in information technology at Idexx, to realize there was something that didn’t belong on the Volkswagen Tiguan he bought four months earlier.
Dumond had taken note of something coming out of the smokestacks at Calpine and quickly connected the two. He contacted security at Idexx, which was aware of the situation and was trying to figure out what had happened.
“It was a little frustrating, but these things take time,” Dumond said.
Before the full extent of the problem was known, Idexx told its employees that they could wash their cars if they felt so compelled and to keep a record of the work done. Dumond contacted Nickerson, a friend who’s worked on his car before.
Dumond was relieved to learn the residue could be removed, and now is glad to have his car looking shinier than the day he bought it.
“All in all, Calpine has handled this situation, I think, to the best of its ability,” he said.