The U.S. EPA will begin testing water near a hazardous waste dump in Clark County to see if any of the 1.5 million gallons of toxic chemicals buried there are leaking.
Samples haven’t been taken at the Tremont City Barrel Fill since 2005, according to a statement received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday.
“The testing is being done in response to community interest in gathering more current groundwater data at the site,” the U.S. EPA wrote in a statement.
Local leaders and activists believe rainwater draining through the barrels could contaminate drinking water as the barrel fill sits near the city’s aquifer. Any leakage could pose a risk to public health decades from now.
The cleanup plan for the 8.5-acre site in northern Clark County has been hotly debated for years.
All local agencies and activists want the barrels removed from the site, a plan that has been estimated to cost $56 million. But the U.S. EPA has ruled in favor of a different clean-up plan that will cost $28 million: Dig up all of the barrels, remove the ones with liquid waste, add a liner and put the barrels filled with solid waste back in place.
The decision to take samples was made as part of meetings held in Springfield last week that included officials from the U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA, Waste Management, other potentially responsible parties, the city of Springfield and local activists People for Safe Water.
The scope of the sampling and its objectives remains in discussion, according to the U.S. EPA. The Ohio EPA will lead the project and the cost of the testing is unknown at this point.
Samples could begin being taken from existing monitoring wells this fall or spring, depending on the condition of the monitoring wells.
It’s imperative the water be tested before the U.S. EPA makes a final decision, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said, but community leaders aren’t backing down from their desire to see the waste removed from the site.
“It’s a positive movement that we’re talking but it’s not very apparent to me that the U.S. EPA is going to change their mind here,” Patterson said. “That’s the feeling I’ve been getting from what’s been going on.”
However, the testing could strengthen the local community’s argument — that the barrels could be leaking and any hazardous waste should be removed, said Marilyn Welker, president of People for Safe Water, a local activist group fighting the clean-up plan at the barrel fill.
“It’s really kind of the best possible scenario to see how the test results come back,” Welker said.
The tests will also be split and sent to two different labs, Welker said. The Ohio EPA will use its lab, while another lab will be selected by representatives from companies that might have buried waste there and be responsible for assisting with the cleanup.
As part of the meetings last week, the U.S. EPA and the potentially responsible parties said they’d be willing to add a second liner as part of a plan to bring the site up to current federal regulations for new hazardous waste landfills. The regulations don’t apply, Patterson said, because it’s an existing, decades-old barrel fill.
“We still are not wanting to see that because liners will leak,” Welker said.
It was a concession, however, they weren’t willing to make previously, Welker said.
“We wanted to give credit where credit is due that they were willing to change with pressure,” Welker said.
Last year, the U.S. EPA sampled soil, water and sediment around the barrel fill. As of March, the samples were in the quality control process, according to the U.S. EPA’s website.
After the initial testing, the U.S. EPA announced it is pursuing placing the landfill on the National Priorities List, commonly called Superfund sites, which would allow for federal and state money to be used to clean it up. The goal is to have it listed within the next year.
As part of the upcoming testing, the deeper well fields will likely be selected, Welker said. Trace contaminants were previously found in testing years ago — the same chemicals that are being stored at the barrel fill, she said, but they were blamed on lab error.
“We’re very anxious to see if there is more vertical migration,” Welker said. “It’s a real big issue.”