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Activist group seeks barrel fill waste study

Clark County leaders say fed plan risks public health.

Local activist group People for Safe Water wants the city to fund an independent study about possible effects of hazardous waste leaking from the Tremont City Barrel Fill, which sits near the area’s drinking water aquifer that serves 82,000 customers in Clark County.

Representatives from the city, county and federal government spoke at a public event Monday evening at the City Hall forum about ways citizens can help change the proposed clean-up plan at the barrel fill — an 8.5-acre section of a closed landfill for industrial waste barrels that contains an estimated 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste buried in the ground.

Officials believe the site could be a risk to public health decades from now if left in its current state. They believe rainwater draining through the unlined barrels and containment pools could eventually contaminate Clark County’s drinking water.

From 1976 to 1979, 51,500 drums and 300,000 gallons of industrial waste were disposed in unlined pits at the barrel fill.

People for Safe Water President Marilyn Welker said the study would be performed by a hydrogeologist who could examine the geology of the site as well as how long it would take the contaminants to enter the aquifer.

The estimated cost is $30,000, but the group has not yet made a formal proposal to city leaders. They believe the study could save the city from having to spend more money to maintain well pumps in the future, if the they were to be contaminated. The group will also work with local field representatives from the federal government to identify match grants to reduce costs.

A similar study spurred a multi-million dollar clean-up at the former Mound atomic plant in Miamisburg in the early 1990s, Welker said.

Welker’s group believes the “fatally-flawed” remedial investigation performed at the site by the U.S. EPA was used to determine the record of decision released in 2011.

Welker said the U.S. EPA has “misrepresented” the geology and contents of the barrel fill. Welker said the EPA’s U.S. Region 5 remedial investigation states no dense non-aqueous phase liquids, or DNAPLs, are present at the barrel fill, yet previous documentation shows those liquids are present. The EPA also makes no mention of the carbonate aquifer underneath the sand and gravel aquifer, even though they acknowledge it in a previous site investigation.

“This is calculated blindness,” Welker said. “It’s unacceptable, and it makes me furious.”

In 2010, area leaders believed the U.S. EPA would move forward with a $56 million plan, called Alternative 4a, to remove all hazardous waste from the barrel fill, a Superfund Alternative site. However, in 2011, the U.S. EPA issued a final decision, Alternative 9a, that called for barrels containing industrial waste to be dug up and then reburied on-site in a lined landfill at a cost of approximately $28 million.

Welker said there is precedence for overturning a U.S. EPA record of decision here in the Miami Valley. The Valleycrest Landfill in Dayton is expected to complete its $36.8 million clean-up plan in 2016 after officials pleaded with the executive branch of the federal government to change the decision years ago.

There is no way to appeal a U.S. EPA record of decision, but two officials can make the change: Richard Karl, the director of the Superfund division for U.S. EPA Region 5, and President Barack Obama.

“Those are the folks we need to get an audience with so we can make a change,” said Clark County Combined Health District Commissioner Charles Patterson.

A letter written by Patterson was hand-delivered to President Barack Obama’s aides during his campaign stop here last November in an attempt to reverse a decision made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how to clean up the site. A year later, they’re still waiting for a response.

Mark Allen of the Ohio EPA told the Springfield Rotary Club last month he believes the federal government could use the barrel fill’s clean-up plan as a precedent to perform similar actions at other Superfund sites. He can’t find another site that’s been cleaned up in a similar manner.

Patterson said he’s no conspiracy theorist, but agrees with Allen’s assessment. The cost savings at all the Superfund sites around country would quickly pile up, Patterson said.

“That’s what it’s about folks,” Patterson said. “It’s about money.”

Patterson believes the issue isn’t about the science involved, but rather politics. Citizen engagement will help in getting the decision changed back to the proper clean-up plan.

Several citizens expressed their disappointment to representatives that the barrel fill still hasn’t been cleaned up.

The panel included John Ryan, the state director for U.S. senator Sherrod Brown’s office, Chris Martin of Rep. John Boehner’s office, German Township trustees Charles Metzger and Rodney Kaffenbarger and Patterson. Mayor Warren Copeland also served as the forum’s moderator.

Ryan and Martin both said their congressional offices will work with local leaders to do whatever it takes to find a solution.

“We want to make sure the folks in D.C. get this right,” Ryan said.

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