DEQ view: Quality Welding under investigation

The Department of Environmental Quality is checking out allegations that Quality Welding gets rid of paint and paint thinner by dumping it on the ground.

Quality Welding owner Lewis Dickerson calls the charges false. But two sources familiar with company operations claim they witnessed paint and thinner being dumped into the ground.

In April, the Charlottesville fire marshal, Charlottesville building inspectors, and representatives of the DEQ visited the Harris Street welding shop.

Fire marshal Ben Powell cited the business for 14 violations on April 16, the most serious of which were storing open containers of flammable paint and thinners within 10 feet of welding operations and spray painting without adequate ventilation.

"They corrected all the fire code stuff," says Powell. "I went back on April 23 to check the code corrections because I had them stop work until they were fixed." Powell says he contacted the city building inspector and the DEQ.

City building official Tom Elliott says that businesses that paint inside need a sprinkler system and a paint booth or an area with proper ventilation, exhaust, filters, and a fire-rated area none of which Quality Welding has.

"We appreciate calls from concerned citizens about building code violations," adds Elliott, because once construction is complete, building inspectors usually don't know what's going on inside.

There were outside problems too. Where employees paint, Powell observed paint on the ground. "The whole area is covered with paint," he says. That can be a concern if the materials on the ground can be carried off into streams, says a DEQ official.

According to the DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden, guidelines for outdoors painting depend on the volume and whether people are breathing the fumes. "We're looking into whether some type of permit is required from an emissions standpoint," he says.

"In some cases a protective area or hood that contains paint emissions is appropriate," says Hayden. "That's what we're looking at."

"You can walk out behind the shop, and the ground is green or black or whatever," says a source, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. And when asked how Quality Welding disposes of paint and thinner, this source reports witnessing painting products being dumped out on the ground.

A DEQ inspector found no evidence that paint had been dumped, but says it may be a month before the investigation of Quality Welding is complete, says Hayden.

"We want to look at how they're managing their disposal of painting materials," he says. "We're looking into conditions of how they conduct painting."

The DEQ did not take soil or water samples, according to Hayden.

Dickerson, who flies a Confederate battle flag above his shop, downplays the government visits to his business, and says the DEQ "said we were fine." He says he was instructed to store paint in a 55-gallon barrel and then have it picked up when full.

He describes how Quality Welding previously disposed of paint: "We put it in a bucket, and it evaporates and gets hard. Then you can put it in a dumpster," says Dickerson, who adds that the DEQ approved that method.

Hayden confirms that letting paint dry up before tossing it "can be an approved method."

Both whistleblowers cite environmental concerns about Quality Welding's methods of handling painting materials, and fear ground, air, and water contamination. "Either they don't care, or they're ignorant," says one observer.

Lewis Dickerson admits to improperly storing paint, but not to improperly dumping it. "The DEQ said there were no major problems, just a few minor ones," he says.