Local officials, residents say pressure must continue to clean hazardous waste site

Residents and public officials in Clark County said now is a critical time to keep pressuring federal officials, despite recent progress in a years-long battle to remove millions of gallons of chemical waste from a barrel fill site north of Springfield.

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told residents earlier this month the project to remove waste from the controversial Tremont Barrel Fill site is still on hold for now as the U.S. Justice Department conducts a legal review of the documents that outline the plan. A group of residents pushing for the cleanup, along with elected officials were initially expecting the project to start relatively soon, said State Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield.

But local officials were recently told negotiations to reach a final agreement to clean the site could take six months. It would also take about a year to design the project before it would officially start. Officials from the U.S. EPA could not be reached for further updates for this story.

Residents who have been fighting for the cleanup for years are optimistic progress is being made despite the latest delay, said Marilyn Welker, a member of People for Safe Water. The group of area residents has been fighting to move the project ahead for years, and she said now is a critical time to push to finalize the project.

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“The challenge for our group is to keep people enough informed to keep moving forward,” Welker said.

The barrel fill, at 3108 Snyder Domer Road, is an 8.5-acre section of a closed landfill that had been used for industrial waste barrels for decades. It contains an estimated 1.5 million gallons of hazardous waste buried in the ground. Both residents and local elected officials have raised alarms of potential contamination that could affect an aquifer providing drinking water for close to 80,000 area residents.

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Federal officials have said the barrels buried at the site are in no danger of deteriorating for years, Koehler said. But Koehler said the longer the cleanup is delayed, the greater the risk to residents.

“My concern has always been once this starts to leak, and one day it will, this is bad news for Springfield,” Koehler said.

What’s next

EPA officials recently updated the current plan to clean the site at a meeting in Springfield. Negotiations are ongoing to develop a final list of companies who will be included in the roughly $27 to $28 million cleanup, and to determine how much of the cost each entity will be responsible for, Welker said.

“EPA intends to negotiate with the potentially responsible parties for the remedial design and remedial action cleanup work,” the federal agency said in a statement to the News-Sun. “EPA referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this fall and is waiting for a DOJ attorney to be assigned before negotiations can begin. Since EPA is seeking a judicial consent decree settlement, DOJ must be involved in the negotiations.”

With 51,500 barrels of waste buried at the site, Welker said about 90 percent of the barrels contain mixtures of chemical wastes which include pesticides and various chemicals whose concentrations exceed EPA’s allowable drinking water standards by hundreds and even millions of times. She said there are also chemicals for which no acceptable level of concentration in drinking water has been established. About 10 percent of the barrels contain material classified as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and detergent, she said.

DETAILS: Tremont City barrel fill: What’s really going on?

The waste included glues, resins, paint sludge, paint scraps, soap, shampoo, detergent, asbestos, oils and other industrial compounds. Food industry sources also disposed of items such as margarine and corn syrup.

EPA officials recently told residents the cleanup effort will include removing drums from the site and shipping liquid waste discovered off-site to special locations for disposal. The solids that remain will be dug up and reburied on site in a double-lined landfill. The site will then be capped and groundwater will be monitored to detect any leaks.

“The waste has been in place for decades without impacting the area’s deep drinking water aquifer,” said Rachel Bassler, a spokeswoman for U.S. EPA Region 5. “Long-term groundwater monitoring will be conducted as part of the site remedy, and EPA will conduct comprehensive reviews of the effectiveness of the remedy no less often than every five years after the cleanup work begins, to ensure that the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment. Details about how the cleanup will be conducted and how it might impact local roads, etc., will be determined during the remedial design phase.”

Koehler said officials had initially been hoping for a more extensive $56 million plan that would have removed all hazardous waste from the site. However, several companies expected to be involved with the cleanup proposed the less expensive alternative plan that ultimately moved forward.

Local residents have been battling to have waste removed from the site for years, and there was a concern much of that fight would have had to start over if the current plan was rejected, said Larry Ricketts, also of People for Safe Water.

“We finally figured if we don’t take what they’re offering, they’ll walk away from it,” he said.

While the plan is not ideal, both local elected officials and several residents who have long fought for the cleanup said they’re ready to move forward with the proposal as long as the hazardous waste is removed.

“In the end this will not cost taxpayers,” Koehler said of the removal process. “This will be paid for by the responsible parties. The fact is we want it done right.”

A concerted effort

Local officials said this month’s meeting was a sign of progress, but it also raised some other concerns that have yet to be worked out.

“At this stage, there has been general agreement on all the major parts and pieces, but there are still plenty of technical details to work out,” said Melanie Wilt, a Clark County commissioner who attended the EPA’s recent meeting.

“One of the outstanding technical questions is what impact the clean up would have on county and township roads,” Wilt said. “As with any roads where large equipment will be moving regularly, there will be wear and tear. A question that we posed in the meeting, and will bring up again, is: who will be responsible for those costs? The most important thing to remember is that we are all invested in getting the barrel fill cleaned up.”

Koehler noted representatives from the EPA initially said it’s possible either the county or local township could get stuck with any road repairs as hundreds of trucks travel to and from the site during the cleanup effort. Koehler said local officials made it clear local entities don’t have funding available to repair roads, and argued any repairs should be included in the cost of the cleanup.

Ricketts said one reason the cleanup is finally moving forward is both residents and local elected officials have worked closely together to push for the cleanup.

“Everybody in the city, the county, everyone is pointed in the same direction on this,” Ricketts said.

The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about the proposed cleanup plan for the Tremont City Barrel Fill, including stories digging into the costs and why local activists want all the hazardous waste removed.

By the numbers:

• 1.5 million —Gallons of hazardous waste stored in barrels buried underground at the Tremont City Barrel Fill

• 8.5 — acres at the site in northern Clark County.

• $27 million to $28 — Anticipated cost of cleanup

• 80,000 people — Estimated residents potentially affected

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