Fight to clean up Tremont hazardous waste grows

Boehner, state groups join locals questioning plans to clean up 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste.

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The Springfield News-Sun Staff has been reporting on the efforts to clean up the Tremont City Barrel Fill for several years and is committed to staying with the story as it develops.

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner has joined local and state leaders in questioning the U.S. EPA’s plan to clean up 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste buried at the Tremont City Barrel Fill.

Boehner sent a letter last week to Susan Hedman, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 administrator. It sought answers on the site’s cleanup plan being switched “at the last minute,” the letter says, which could have “a negative effect on the aquifer.”

“I look forward to hearing from you and your explanation for this switch,” Boehner wrote.

The U.S. EPA received the speaker’s letter last week and is planning a response, agency spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon said. She didn’t comment further.

Statewide organizations such as Center for Health, Environment and Justice also have joined the debate and sent letters to the U.S. EPA urging a more comprehensive cleanup.

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

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 permanently removing all of the waste as recommended by the Ohio EPA and local leaders. The U.S. EPA plan’s estimated cost is $28 million; the estimated cost of the more extensive cleanup and removal plan is $56 million.

Local leaders and environmental groups have been fighting to have the more extensive plan restored ever since, but have stepped up their efforts in recent months.

Last November, Springfield City Commissioner Joyce Chilton handed a letter, written by Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson, to President Obama’s aides during his campaign stop at Springfield High School. Local leaders are still waiting to hear back from the executive branch.

People for Safe Water, a local advocacy group, and community leaders believe that if left in its current state, the site could be hazardous to public health. Rainwater draining through the unlined barrel fill and containment pools could eventually contaminate the area’s aquifer, which serves more than 80,000 customers in Clark and surrounding counties, according to U.S. EPA reports.

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

In April, the federal agency announced it will conduct tests of surface water, soil and sediment in and around the site.

Patterson also sent a letter last week imploring Boehner to seek answers from the U.S. EPA about the barrel fill in northwestern Clark County.

That letter contained the signatures of nearly every member of the Springfield city commission, Clark County commission, Clark County Combined Health District health board, New Carlisle city council, German Twp. trustees and People for Safe Water’s Marilyn Welker.

“We’re hoping this moves us to the next level,” Patterson said.

The letter asks Boehner for assistance regarding the lack of due process in the decision to switch the remediation plan. It was hand-delivered to Boehner’s staff by Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development, during a meeting at the Dayton Development Coalition’s annual fly-in in Washington, D.C. last week.

“It’s a new issue for Speaker Boehner,” Patterson said. “We’re trying to make sure he understands that there are many different political subdivisions involved here and that we’re all on the same page.”

Patterson said People for Safe Water’s singular focus on the issue keeps it in focus for public officials.

“They’re helping keep this bubbling to the surface,” Patterson said.

Springfield City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill also delivered a letter to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman during his visit to the Springfield Rotary Club last week.

“The existing potential of Springfield’s well fields being contaminated is real! We cannot continue to listen to ‘maybes’ and ‘ifs’ about this about this critical issue. We need the right action now,” O’Neill wrote.

On May 16, Teresa Mills, Ohio field office director for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, wrote a letter to the interim U.S. EPA administrator, showing her full support for People for Safe Water’s position regarding the barrel fill cleanup. It was also signed by representatives of the Ohio Environmental Council, Ohio Sierra Club and Green Environmental Coalition.

Local leaders have the opportunity to fix the cleanup plan before it happens and will continue to battle, O’Neill said.

“We want to make sure they know how we want it done,” O’Neill said. “We’re appreciative of anything they do to correct that problem, but we’d like to do it the right way … It’s important to 82,000 people. We just need it done.”