Recent testing at the Tremont City Barrel Fill showed hazardous chemicals remain at levels below EPA standards, changing little since the last round of sampling.
But local leaders and activists say the results were collected after less than a decade and the larger issue remains — they want the 1.5 million gallons of industrial waste located there removed.
“The overall issue is the protection of our water source,” said Marilyn Welker, president of People for Safe Water, a local activist group fighting to permanently dig up and haul away all of the hazardous waste.
All local agencies want the barrels removed from the site, which comes with a $56 million price tag. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled in favor of a different cleanup plan that will cost about $28 million: Dig up all of the barrels, take out the ones with liquid waste, add a double liner and put the barrels filled with solid waste back in place.
The testing shows the concentration of chemicals detected are less than the U.S. EPA contaminant levels for drinking water, says Jeff Martin, an environmental specialist with the Ohio EPA, in a memo obtained by the Springfield News-Sun. The Ohio EPA is “ready to conclude” that the less expensive alternative plan proposed by the potentially responsible parties “will be protective of human health and the environment,” Martin says.
The sampling was completed in December to evaluate the current ground water conditions and create agreement among all of the parties, including the U.S. and Ohio EPA, the responsible parties and People for Safe Water, according to the memo. All four groups participated in work sessions, which were held here last August. The testing was completed by two separate laboratories in Ohio.
But Welker disputed that the intention of the testing was to select a cleanup plan. It was simply a snapshot in time, she said.
“Never did we expect or state or give reason for them to think that,” Welker said.
The testing shows chemicals weren’t found in the lower aquifer, but trace amounts were found in shallower water, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. The results don’t change local leaders’ opinion on the remediation plan, Patterson said.
“(The community and the EPA) are all working toward the same thing, which is to be protective of humans and the environment,” Patterson said. “The community is just a bit more conservative on what we think is a good thing to do with this hazardous waste.”
Since the U.S. EPA selected the $28 million plan in 2011, local leaders have expressed their displeasure to officials at every level of government, including a 2012 letter to President Barack Obama.
The U.S. EPA is pursuing placing the 8.5-acre site on the National Priorities List, which would allow for federal and state money to be used for a cleanup. The site could be proposed this fall, but the state of Ohio must write a letter agreeing to the proposal before it can be submitted.
The U.S. EPA requested the letter of support from the state last April, but has yet to receive one, according to the federal agency.
The Ohio EPA has supported having the waste removed from the site completely for many years, but local leaders are concerned the state agency may decide to instead back the less expensive plan.
Last month, a group of 29 local officials signed a letter urging Ohio Gov. John Kasich to continue to support the plan to remove all hazardous waste from the site. They still haven’t received a response from the governor’s office, Patterson said.
“If they weren’t allowed to put trash in there in a double liner, then why in the world would we consider reburying hazardous waste in the same geological conditions?” Patterson said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
The test results weren’t surprising, he said, especially considering the barrels are under water. It shows the state of the barrels are similar to what they were in 2006, he said.
“It’s just one more reason we need to get them out before something catastrophic happens,” he said.
The U.S. EPA agreed in August to rebury the waste in a double liner, Patterson said. However, if there are no defects and if the liner is well-engineered, it has a shelf life of about 50 years, he said.
“What happens then?” Patterson asked.
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