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Toxic sites are under control

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This is the fourth in a series of articles examining issues regarding local water.
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Once the site of a Vernay Laboratories rubber parts manufacturing facility, the grassy field at the corner of East Enon Road and Dayton Street is now the center of a cleanup of toxic contamination to the groundwater on and around the property. Over the past two decades, Vernay, along with Morris Bean & Company, YSI, Inc. and the Village Water Reclamation plant, have all been point sources of pollution to local ground and surface water. But through their efforts and work with the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies, all four point sources of area water pollution have made strides to control and mitigate the damage they caused to the local watershed.

To date, none of the industrial pollutants nor the local sanitary system has caused irreversible damage to either the Village wellhead or the area surface water. According to Village Water and Wastewater Superintendent Joe Bates this month, the Village tests both its drinking water source (the Village well field) and its wastewater stream, and both show sanitary and industrial contaminant levels within or below acceptable range. The EPA also tests the Yellow Springs Creek that receives the local wastewater discharge, and according to OEPA spokesperson Heather Lauer last week, the good health and biodiversity of the waterways both up and downstream of the village indicate that there are currently no major threats from point source polluters to the area’s waterways.

Vernay working on containment

Vernay Laboratories, whose official headquarters are located on E. South College Street, became a known source of groundwater contamination when industrial waste was spilled at the company’s Dayton Street facility before and during the 1990s. In 2002 the company entered into an Administrative Order on Consent to complete a U.S. EPA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act corrective action and subsequently began an extensive pump and treat program to extract pollutants from the groundwater and contain the contamination plume.

Dozens of monitoring wells on and around the Dayton Street property have tested clean for the contaminants of concern, tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene, cis-1,2-dichloroethene, vinyl chloride and 1,2-dichloropropane, all of which are either carcinogens or nervous system toxins. However, six wells located on the original Vernay property, the former Rabbit Run property now owned by Vernay, Suncrest Drive and Wright Street, all show contaminants above drinking water limits in the upper Cedarville aquifer, starting 15 feet below ground.

To reduce the spread of that plume, Vernay installed two capture wells to extract contaminated groundwater. Because the plume had migrated to Rabbit Run and wasn’t shrinking as quickly as EPA project manager Dave Petrovski wanted, last summer the company added two more capture wells to increase the speed of containment. According to the most recent EPA quarterly progress report from January 2012, to date the wells have extracted 75 million gallons of water that has been treated with activated carbon and sent to the Village wastewater system. The process will continue indefinitely until the OEPA sees evidence that the plume has shrunk enough to issue a final remediation proposal and site closure with time for public comment.

Water clean at Morris Bean

The groundwater around Morris Bean has seen darker days. In 1990, the aluminum and iron casting foundry was found to have leached a byproduct of one of its solvents into the groundwater. Regular testing of the Village wells uncovered a high level of 1,1-dichloroethane in one of the wells, located about half of a mile south of the foundry on East Hyde Road and within the wellhead protection area. The well was immediately shut down, and in 1994 the Ohio EPA entered into an Administrative Order on Consent with the company to contain the contamination. In 2000 the company began pumping the hazardous material out of the ground and treating it with neutralizing agents, according to a 2009 report submitted by Ohio EPA project leader Joe Smindak.

After seven years of remediation work, the Village’s well samples showed contaminants below detectable levels (less than .5 parts per billion) for seven consecutive quarters, and in 2009 the company completed its pump and treat operation. Last spring, Morris Bean passed a final groundwater inspection and, according to OEPA spokesperson Heather Lauer last week, the remediation was determined to be complete and closed. For good measure, the water plant tested for 1,1-dichloroethane at the plant tap in June 2011, and found it to be below detectable levels. The contaminated well has remained inactive since 1990, according to Village Water and Wastewater Superintendent Joe Bates last week.

Because Morris Bean uses a large amount of rinse water in its casting operations, the company holds a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued by the OEPA to treat its own effluent (water leaving the plant) and discharge it to a tributary to the Little Miami River. The permit requires the company to test the effluent for pH, suspended solids, oil and grease and flow rate. According to Lauer, the company has been meeting EPA standards for the contaminants it tests for, although some believe the company should test its effluent for a wider range of chemicals, since its discharge goes directly into the waters in the nature preserve. In a letter to the OEPA earlier this year, Glen Helen land manager George Bieri appealed for a broader water testing protocol for Morris Bean. The permit, according to Lauer, is drafted through the Ohio attorney general’s office and would have to go through that office in order to be altered.

Morris Bean has also been working to shift the on-site processing of its sanitary wastewater to the Village wastewater plant. The company’s on-site sewage treatment plant was found to be ineffective and caused a potential threat to the Village well field. Last year the OEPA approved an environmental impact application for the project, which, with help from a federal grant, will proceed with a connection line to a Village sewer main near Spillan Road, as planned. The company has 54 months to complete the project, according to Lauer.

YSI sees steady progress

A third company in the village, YSI, entered into an Administrative Order on Consent with the U.S. EPA in 2002 to remediate groundwater contamination that occurred on and around its Brannum Lane facility in the 1990s. Like the other companies, YSI installed over 30 monitoring wells on and around its property and then began a bioremediation process using a vegetable oil-based product to help the naturally occurring microbes in the soil to metabolize the contaminants.

Of chief concern were industrial solvents 1,1,1-trichloroethane, 1,1-dichloroethene, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform, which by 2005 had migrated in concentrations above Ohio’s maximum contaminant levels (MCL) as far as 300 feet south and east of YSI’s property. Since that time, according to YSI’s 2011 interim action report, the contaminants have largely broken down into their “daughter” products, and the entire contamination plume has shrunk down to the source area, or the area below and just around its southern-most facility.

According to YSI’s corporate responsibility manager Lisa Abel last week, the company will soon decide if a third round of bioremediation is necessary in order to bring all contaminant levels into compliance with the OEPA. According to Abel, data leads her to believe that the whole remediation process could be complete soon, she said last week in a conference call with Lisa Natoli, vice president of Xylem, YSI’s parent company.

Most of the contamination has been contained to the “former dock area now, and things look good,” Abel said. “We’ll take an educated guess about another injection, but we would like to be able to close this up by 2014–15.”

Treatment plant refurbished

The Village wastewater treatment plant on Grinnell Road has in the past been an occasional source of contamination to the Yellow Springs Creek. In times of heavy rainfall the plant did not have enough capacity to hold and treat all of its wastewater and would end up passing weakly treated effluent to the streams. After a major upgrade of the plant was completed last year, however, the plant has brought the wastewater back into compliance with OEPA standards for clean streams and waterways, according to Wastewater Superintendent Joe Bates.

In accordance with its OEPA discharge permit, the reclamation facility regularly tests its effluent for sanitary waste contaminants, such as phosphorus, which encourages algae growth and depletes the stream of oxygen. According to Bates, the phosphorus level in the effluent has dropped from an average of 4 milligrams per liter to about 1 mg/liter. The level of ammonia has dropped from an average 2.3 mg/liter to about 1.1 mg/liter, and the level of suspended solids has also dropped from an average of 30 mg/liter to about 18 mg/liter. According to Bates, all potential contaminants are well below MCLs or below detectable limits this year.

Signs in watershed clear

According to OEPA spokesperson Heather Lauer, the Village does not test for point source contaminants at the wellhead or at the wastewater plant because the individual contamination plumes have not spread to within the five-year time of travel zone of the Village wellhead protection area. And though they could migrate to the stream system, according to a spokesman from the firm conducting Vernay’s testing, the chemicals the company uses are largely heavy metals and tend to sink rather than flow to surface water and streams. And according to Lauer, initial OEPA data from a multi-year analysis of the streams and river system in Greene County shows low levels of heavy metals and other industrial contaminants.

In addition to the Village’s own tests for the wastewater treatment plant, the EPA also has a sampling protocol for the area’s watersheds, including the Little Miami River, where it expects to see a certain number and diversity of plant and fish species. According to Lauer, the EPA tests the watersheds every six years and is currently in the process of updating watershed data since the last samples were taken in 2006. So far, the part of the Little Miami River that meets the Yellow Springs Creek was so healthy that the sampling teams decided to focus on areas further downstream, Lauer said.

Point source pollution is just one threat to the water system. Nonpoint source pollution, which could include land runoff, precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, seepage or hydrologic modification, is the topic of the next article in the “water” series.


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