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YSI seeks clean-up comment

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A local environmental clean-up project may soon be drawing to a close.

YSI Inc. has finished the final phase of a cleanup project that began in 2006, after employees of the company were found to have discharged contaminants on its grounds during the 1980s and 90s. A report will be issued to the EPA outlining the results of the company’s last rounds of soil and water tests, which show that levels of contaminants are under limits harmful to humans.

According to the report, no compounds in “concentrations of concern” were found in soils or surface water. While acetone was found in tested sediment, the chemical was not one used by YSI and is thus not their duty to clean up.

However, before the report is submitted, YSI will hold a public meeting to go over the results.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 1, at the Bryan Center. The public is encouraged to submit questions to YSI about the project and its findings, which will be addressed at the meeting.

A copy of the report in question — “RCRA Facility Investigation at YSI Incorporated Facility” — is available at the Yellow Springs Community Library and online at http://www.ysi.com/areawells. Comments can be sent to Lisa Abel, YSI’s Director of Quality, at lmabel@ysi.com. RCRA refers to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, one of two sets of mandates outlining YSI’s cleanup efforts.

Pending approval by the EPA, the cleanup project in its entirety will be finished.

In 2001, YSI was found to have illegally disposed of solvents by pouring them on the ground outside its Brannum Lane facility. While the practice was stopped in the 1990s, the contaminants migrated underground and were found in soil and water sources on neighboring land. The Ohio EPA required YSI to undertake remediation efforts, which began in 2005.
The saga began essentially by accident. The Ohio EPA was investigating a separate chemical discharge incident by Vernay Laboratories and was conducting soil and water testing in the areas surrounding Vernay. According to a recent conversation with Abel, some of the chemicals that were discovered — such as 1,1,1-trichloroethane and 1,1-dichlorethane — were not chemicals used by Vernay, and were eventually traced to the YSI campus. The Ohio EPA began investigating the extent of YSI’s contamination shortly thereafter.

Soon after the investigation was announced, a YSI internal investigation revealed that some of its workers had been releasing leftover chemicals to the ground during the 1980s and 90s. According to Abel, the workers were under the mistaken assumption that the chemicals would simply evaporate. Evaporation clearly didn’t happen, she said in a recent interview, as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) migrated through soil and atop bedrock away from YSI. According to testing done by YSI, the Ohio EPA and a report issued by the Ohio Department of Health, testing showed that soil and nearby residential wells had levels of VOCs that exceeded acceptable safety levels.

In 2001, the Ohio EPA required YSI to develop a plan for cleanup and supply an alternate water source to affected Township residents. Over 30 monitoring wells were installed in impacted areas, and YSI paid the Village of Yellow Springs to install water lines to the homes of 18 affected residents. In 2002, the Ohio EPA directed the company to complete Source Control/Groundwater Interim Action (SCIA) cleanup activities.

In 2003, a lawsuit by affected homeowners against YSI was dismissed because the company was undertaking corrective action mandated by the EPA, which precludes citizens from suing the company. However, the judge issued a consent order that said YSI also had to take RCRA corrective action, which Abel said “addressed exposure pathways not addressed by” the first set of requirements.

The company also had to figure out the source of the contamination. According to reports issued by YSI, testing showed that most of the VOCs were coming from the company’s former and current shipping dock areas. A plume of contaminants was blossoming away from YSI, including toward the Village well field. The idea was to reign in the plume and treat contamination at its source. Testing to determine the parameters of the plume took two years.

Clean-up activities began in 2006. YSI injected a vegetable oil-based product called CAP18 into the soil, which grows microbes that metabolize toxic chlorinated hydrocarbons in the soil and water. CAP18 would theoretically follow the same soil pathways as the contaminants and thus eat them, said Abel. Decreasing levels of contamination showed this to be the case.
Testing showed that contaminant levels were consistently shrinking, but in 2008, testing showed that VOC levels were once again on the rise, likely due to the constituent products of the metabolic process, Abel said last week. YSI re-injected an updated version of CAP18 to resume the shrink.

Since then, testing has shown that VOC levels have steadily decreased. YSI finished SCIA cleanup requirements in October 2015, and the EPA officially closed that phase of the project last month, said Abel. YSI has likewise completed RCRA testing. The report to be discussed at the meeting on June 2 is the report to be submitted to the EPA, with hopes that this phase will be closed as well.

While the contamination is unfortunate and the result of the misguided disposal practices of a few employees, the company has been eager and sincere in its efforts to address the problem from the beginning, Abel said last week.

YSI chose the “strictest guidelines” as to the acceptable levels of contaminants, she said, and has conducted transparent testing and public meetings about the spill and cleanup efforts since the contamination was discovered. The company’s internal memos were likewise made public as soon as the investigation began, she said.

Miami Township Trustee Chris Mucher, who is part of a group of citizens who oversaw the cleanup process, said recently that he appreciated that YSI has been upfront about the problem from the beginning.

YSI has done an “admirable job with the whole process,” he said. The company “aggressively pursued remediation.”

The company was also fined $275,000 by the state in 2003 for a hazardous waste violation, but half of this money was redirected toward environmental projects, such as a grant for the Green Environmental Coalition and a micro watershed study. A Yellow Springs News article from 2003 reported that the company had already spent $5 million on the project at that point.

Staunching the contamination was the company’s intent all along, according to Abel of YSI.
“We’re an environmental company,” she said. “Transparent testing and concern for the environment is who we are.”

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YSI seeks clean-up comment

by Dylan Taylor-Lehman