Reward offered for copper thieves who caused Coats American spill

Reward offered for copper thieves who caused Coats American spill

Oil spill in Rossville contained chemical linked to health risks, cancer

March 12th, 2018 by Ben Benton and Tyler Jett in Breaking News

UPDATE: A reward of $1,000 is being offered by Walker County government for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for spilling the contaminated oil.

Anyone with information concerning the spill should contact the Rossville Police Department or Walker County Sheriff's Office. The thieves left behind a bag filled with copper and some tools. 

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division also has asked Walker County to amend its Corrective Action Plan for the site. The county must test soil taken from the site for PCBs, which had not been found at the Coats American building before now, and for volatile organic compounds such as benzofluoranthene and metals. If those are found, they will have to be cleaned up, EPD says.  


ORIGINAL STORY: An oil spill on a Rossville street contained a chemical linked to many health risks, including cancer.

Noticing a sheen in a drainage ditch, a Rossville resident called the police around 7 p.m. Sunday. Walker County Spokesman Joe Legge said an officer traced the spill back to the abandoned Coats America building, located at 150 Maple Street. Rossville Police Chief Sid Adams said the drainage ditch was across the street from the source of the spill.

Police suspect copper thieves caused the spill. They found a transformer tipped over inside the building. A 50-gallon drum of oil was inside the transformer, and the oil contained Polychlorinated biphenyls.

Manufacturers once used PCB as a coolant and lubricant in transformers. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chemical is linked to several health risks.

A 1987 study of two plants that produced electrical capacitors found a "significant increase" in cancer among its workers, primarily in the liver, gallbladder and biliary tract. Three other studies of workers at plants with PCB found links to skin cancer, and two studies found links to brain cancer.

Other studies of the chemical found evidence of developmental problems. A 1999 study of men who ate PCB-contaminated fish found that they struggled to reproduce than the general population. 

A 1984 study of women with similar diets found that their children were more likely to have neurological development problems. At 4 years old, their children generally weighed less, had slower reactions and scored worse on memory tests. At 11 years old, those same children were three times more likely than their peers to have low-scale IQ scores and twice as likely to lag behind in reading comprehension.

Four follow-up studies found mothers with a diet of PCB-contaminated fish gave birth to babies more likely to suffer from neurobehavioral and developmental deficits. 

Other studies of workers exposed to PCB found that the chemical can cause lesions, severe acne and infected hair follicles. The infected hair follicles, in turn, can lead to cysts.

In Rossville, Walker County Emergency Services, the Chattanooga Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Emergency Incident Responses team and an SRT Safety team responded to the spill. Workers moved the oil back to a contained spot inside the building by 11:30 p.m., Legge said.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is also working the case.  County officials are scheduled to hold a conference call with an EPD representative this morning.

Legge said investigators believe the culprit was stealing copper out of the building because they found a napsack with copper at the scene. They believe at least one person was on a string of thefts when they entered the Coats America building.

"If anyone has seen anybody coming or going in that building recently," Legge said, "please contact Rossville police or the Walker County Sheriff's Office."

Coats America used to make textiles in Rossville, but the county has owned the 200,000-square foot building since 2007.

The Walker County Development Authority issued a request for proposal on the building in January. The Authority is supposed to review the bids Tuesday morning.