EPA to test hazardous barrel site

Residents concerned by sampling, unsure what it means for site with 1.5M gallons of hazardous waste.

The U.S. EPA Region 5 office will sample surface water, soil and sediment in and around the Tremont City Barrel Fill Superfund Alternative Site this month.

The decision has a local water protection group worried the site’s status could change after local officials and health groups have fought for decades to have it cleaned up.

People for Safe Water, a new group determined to fight the U.S. EPA’s plans to remediate the barrel fill, began meeting last May after a previous group, Citizens for Wise Action Toward Environmental Resources, known as CF/WATER, decided to disband.

“We can’t figure out what this sampling means and this delay,” said Marilyn Welker, the group’s president.

The U.S. EPA didn’t return multiple phone calls from the Springfield News-Sun seeking comment.

According to an e-mail obtained by the News-Sun, Region 5 told the group’s members they are “sampling to evaluate current conditions” at the site and may use the data “to assess” whether the site will be considered for the National Priorities List, which is commonly referred to as the Superfund program.

The U.S. EPA’s website describes the NPL as “a list of national priorities among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories.” The list guides the EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation.

Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson is also unclear on what the new testing means for the site, but knows the battle must continue to preserve water for future generations.

“We’re trying to prevent a problem 50 to 100 years from now,” Patterson said.

Area politicians and health leaders have been fighting for years to have the barrel fill —an 8.5-acre section of a closed landfill for industrial waste barrels that sits near the area’s drinking water aquifer — remediated.

Last June, the U.S. EPA announced it was preparing a negotiation package for the U.S. Department of Justice, which serves as the representative for potentially responsible parties that might have contributed to the barrel fill. The U.S. EPA will send notice to potentially responsible parties on the cleanup plans and why it believes they’re liable.

According to most recent update to the U.S. EPA’s barrel fill website, the negotiating process is still ongoing.

People for Safe Water and community leaders believe that if left in its current state, the site could be a hazard to public health. Rainwater draining through the unlined barrel fill and containment pools could eventually contaminate the area’s sole source aquifer, which serves 85,000 customers in Clark and Montgomery counties, according to U.S. EPA reports.

In September 2011, the U.S. EPA released its plan to dig up the barrels and then rebury them on site in a lined landfill, rather than removing all of the waste as recommended by the Ohio EPA and civic leaders.

The U.S. EPA plan’s estimated cost is $28 million; the estimated cost of the more extensive clean-up plan, Alternative 4a, is $56 million.

Local leaders and environmental groups have been fighting to have the more extensive plan restored.

“The plan has been proposed, it was acceptable,” Welker said. “We want that plan.”

Welker said EPA officials told her in an e-mail that the upcoming sampling is part of the initial Hazardous Ranking System scoring for the site, but it wouldn’t release the rankings of sites being assessed for proposal as a Superfund site.

“Our first thought was, OK, more delays, which is OK,” Welker said. “But the second one is ‘What’s going on behind the scenes that they won’t tell us. Who’s challenging this plan?’ … Our concern is that the sampling that is to be done this month still does not reach into the (sand and gravel or carbonate) aquifer. It’s still a superficial sampling.”

Extremely low levels of contaminants have been found in aquifers underneath the site, according to U.S. EPA records, but can’t be traced back to the barrels and aren’t considered harmful to public health. Safe Water members, however, believe the barrels are dangerous to the aquifers underneath the site.

The group has asked for letters of support from both Speaker of the House John Boehner and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Ohio Rep. Bob Hackett and Ohio Sen. Chris Widener both have said they’d sign a letter of support.

They also plan to send questions to the U.S. EPA in Washington, D.C.

“We need to shake the tree higher up,” Welker said.

Area political and health leaders delivered a letter to President Barack Obama’s aides during his stop here Nov. 2 in an attempt to reverse the decision on how to clean up the site. It states area leaders are concerned about the “lack of due process in the ongoing Superfund proceedings” and implores the president’s help and guidance.

They are still waiting for a response, and plan to meet to discuss the next steps this week. The environmental group also plans to attend Springfield City Commission meetings, beginning today.

“We want to support the city and raise the importance of this issue,” Welker said.

CF/WATER, which at one time had as many as 500 members, helped stop the construction of another landfill in the same area in 1999, raising $800,000 for the cause.

However Chairman Jeff Briner said membership has waned in recent years, and they plan to disband the group later this year.

Briner said he’s “disgusted” with the clean up process.

“It was settled in 2010,” Briner said. “They need to finish it and do what needs to be done.”

Patterson credited CF/WATER for its efforts, and said it’s important another group like PFSW to continue the fight.

“Citizens groups carry a lot of weight (with the U.S. EPA),” Patterson said.

Anyone interested in joining People for Safe Water can e-mail PFSwater@gmail.com.

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