Speaker of the House John Boehner is disappointed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lack of action at the Tremont City Barrel Fill, a Superfund Alternative site that area officials believe could hurt the local water supply.
Local officials and activist groups have worked for years to change the proposed cleanup 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. They believe hazardous waste is leaking from the site, which sits near the area’s drinking water aquifer that serves 82,000 customers around Clark County.
If left in its current state, the site could be a risk to public health decades from now, officials said. They believe rainwater draining through the unlined barrels and containment pools could eventually contaminate Clark County’s drinking water.
Boehner said all local agencies want the barrels removed from the site — including the city, county and Ohio EPA — but the U.S. EPA has proposed a different cleanup plan: dig up the barrels, add a liner and then put them back in place.
“The EPA is trying to Bigfoot everybody,” Boehner said in an exclusive interview with the Springfield News-Sun on Thursday. “We’ve been in there with them trying to get everybody on the same page. It’s a Superfund site that needs to be cleaned up, the sooner, the better. EPA needs to work, we think, more closely with local officials.”
The U.S. EPA told the News-Sun it is “aware of the community’s concerns” about the selected cleanup plan at the Tremont site and is now in the process of hiring a third-party facilitator with the goal of improving communications at the site, according to Anne Rowan, chief of the public affairs section for the office of external communications at Region 5.
Last April, the U.S. EPA took samples of “surface water, soil and sediment in and around the site” in order to evaluate its conditions.
Rowan said in an e-mail on Friday the samples were taken as part of the process to potentially propose the site to the Superfund National Priorities List. The U.S. EPA is working through the process, which would make the site eligible for federal funding for remediation, if necessary.
The U.S. EPA has not begun formal negotiations with the potentially responsible parties to implement the selected cleanup plan, Rowan said.
Last May, Boehner sent a letter to Region 5 about the barrel fill site. He received a response from Susan Hedman, the Region 5 administrator, who wrote the proposed cleanup plan will “prevent waste” from contaminating the aquifer and that the EPA “addressed all public comments” before selection the new plan.
In December, Boehner sponsored a conference call with the city, county and the EPA.
“We’re trying to keep pushing them toward getting everybody into one agreement,” Boehner said.
Boehner said he’s not been happy about the response from the Region 5 office in Chicago.
“There’s been a long history there of, at the Chicago office, Region 5, of Bigfooting local states and communities, and we’re seeing it one more time,” Boehner said. “That’s I how would describe it.”
The goal, Boehner said, is for county and city officials to be comfortable with the cleanup plan moving forward.
“Up to this point, they haven’t been,” Boehner said.
From 1976 to 1979, 51,500 drums and 300,000 gallons of industrial waste were disposed in unlined pits at the barrel fill.
In 2010, area leaders believed the U.S. EPA would move forward with a $56 million plan, Alternative 4a, to remove all hazardous waste from the barrel fill. In 2011, however, the U.S. EPA issued its final decision, the $28 million Alternative 9a, which called for barrels containing industrial waste to be dug up and then reburied on-site in a lined landfill.
Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland agreed with Boehner’s assessment of the U.S. EPA Region 5. He believes they should reconsider their plan in Tremont City.
“Their experts came up with a good plan, and for some reason, they backed off to a second-best plan,” Copeland said. “They did that for reasons I don’t understand, that don’t have anything to do with our local concern. The federal EPA needs to go back to where they were when they were following their experts’ advice.”
He said the offices of both Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Rob Portman are working hard on getting the plan reversed.
“I appreciate any help we can get,” Copeland said.
There is no way to appeal a U.S. EPA record of decision. However, two officials can make the change: Richard Karl, the director of the Superfund division for Region 5, and President Barack Obama.
A letter written by Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson was hand-delivered to Obama’s aides during his campaign stop in November of 2012 in an attempt to reverse the decision. They’re still waiting for a response.
The Ohio EPA’s Mark Allen told the Springfield Rotary Club last year he believes the federal government may set a precedent with the proposed cleanup at the barrel fill in order to perform similar cleanups at other Superfund sites. He can’t find another site that’s been cleaned the way the U.S. EPA has proposed.
People for Safe Water, a local group actively fighting to have the cleanup plan changed, wants the city to fund a study performed by a hydrogeologist to examine 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 yet to make a formal proposal to city leaders.
Staff Writer Samantha Sommer contributed to this report.