Sinkholes cause concern
- Published: December 11, 2014
Morris Bean & Company is working with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to address recurring sinkholes at its Hyde Road plant. The sinkholes have raised concerns about potential contamination to the source of Yellow Springs’ drinking water, while the company maintains that the situation is under control.
Natural sinkholes at the Hyde Road plant are causing some industrial wastewater to directly enter the groundwater in the Village of Yellow Springs’ source water protection area, according to the Ohio EPA.
Morris Bean is permitted by the Ohio EPA for the release of wastewater that overflows an onsite lagoon into an unnamed stream that passes through Glen Helen Nature preserve and 2.5 acres of restored wetland before entering the Little Miami River.
However, last year the Ohio EPA discovered that the lagoon overflow, along with storm water run off, was pouring from a drainage ditch into a newly-formed sinkhole on the southeastern edge of the property.
After citing the company, the Ohio EPA approved Morris Bean’s plan to fill in the sinkhole. But sinkholes have since reformed in the area, and due to this area’s karst-prone geology the Ohio EPA has said that filling in the sinkholes is likely not a long-term solution.
Morris Bean, an aluminum casting foundry that has operated at the Miami Township property since 1949, is located one-mile north of the Village municipal wells along Jacoby Road and is within a five-year time-of-travel to the wells.
Village water and wastewater plant superintendent Joe Bates said this week that while the Ohio EPA informed the Village of the initial sinkhole violation last year and has recommended the Village work more closely with the company to address potential contamination, he only recently became aware that the sinkholes were recurring.
“We’re very concerned — it’s a threat to our well field,” Bates said.
The wastewater infiltrating the sinkhole, however, does not contain any chemicals or contaminants at levels that would be a concern, according to a Dina Pierce, an Ohio EPA spokesperson.
“Ohio EPA has performed monitoring of the discharge in question and did not detect any chemicals or other constituents at concentrations which would be of a concern,” according to Pierce in an email this week. Morris Bean is currently evaluating the potential of piping the pond discharge past the sinkhole-prone area to the property line, she added.
Morris Bean Vice President Bill Magro said this week that the company is working closely with Ohio EPA to fill in the sinkholes as they form and regularly monitors the area.
“We are keeping our eyes on it as part of the plan,” Magro said, adding, “We are trying to be good citizens.”
Magro added that much of the water infiltrating the sinkholes is runoff from area farm fields and that while some amount of water from the drainage ditch is infiltrating the small sinkholes, water continues to flow through the ditch. Previously, Magro pointed out that the discharge from the settling pond has existed for at least 60 years and is authorized under a permit from NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System). He said the small amount of discharge should not be considered “dumping.”
“Water has been running down that ditch for decades and this is the first evidence of anything different,” Magro said. “Dumping implies active disposal of horrible waste — we’re not dumping.”
According to Morris Bean’s NPDES permit, renewed in 2012, the outfall in question consists of treated process wastewater and non-contact cooling water generated during their manufacturing process. After going through the settling ponds, the water is discharged to an unnamed tributary along with storm water. The permit requires the company to test parameters that include pH levels, total suspended solids, oil and grease amounts and flow rate.
In addition, Morris Bean reported in June that the total suspended solids daily and monthly concentration limit was exceeded after a heavy rainfall event, but otherwise the outfall has been within permitted limits, according to the Ohio EPA.
Wright State University environmental chemist Audrey McGowin and Green Environmental Commission President Vickie Hennessy expressed concern this week that the Ohio EPA and the Village of Yellow Springs aren’t doing enough to protect the Village’s municipal water source from contamination at the site.
Hennessy said she hopes the Village follows the Ohio EPA’s recommendation to work more closely with Morris Bean, which is part of Yellow Springs’ 2001 Wellhead Protection Plan. The Village might even help the company fix the ongoing sinkhole issue, Hennessy said. Previously, in a 2013 letter to the Village, Mike Proffit, assistant division chief of the Southwest Ohio District of the Ohio EPA, urged the Village to cooperate with the company.
“Ohio EPA strongly encourages the Village to implement their [Wellhead Protection] Plan and continue their dialog with Morris Bean on the best possible options to protect their drinking water source,” Proffit wrote.
Among the factors that make the Village’s water vulnerable, according to Proffit, are that there is no geologic barrier to contamination between the surface and underground aquifer, the depth to water is shallow, there are potential contaminant sources in the source water protection area and there have been ongoing detections of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in the Village’s raw water.
McGowin, an environmental chemist with 20 years experience, completed an area groundwater survey this fall with her Advanced Environmental Chemistry class and found that the drainage ditch along the bike path that should be carrying Morris Bean’s industrial wastewater to the unnamed tributary was nearly dry. She reported her finding to the Ohio EPA and also made superintendent Bates aware of the situation.
McGowin is concerned because the water coming from Morris Bean was once cleaned naturally as it passed along the stream and through the wetland, but now that it is directly infiltrating the groundwater through a sinkhole, contaminants could get through.
“Contaminants can precipitate and biodegrade and soil can remove metals, but not if it’s going into the groundwater, where there is no air or sunlight,” McGowin explained.
McGowin added that she is not confident that the Ohio EPA is measuring all possible contaminants of concern and is hoping to complete her own study of the outflow from Morris Bean.
An unrelated groundwater contamination remediation project at Morris Bean came to an end in 2011, when the Ohio EPA officially terminated its clean-up order. For 10 years, Morris Bean pumped and treated contaminated groundwater under order from Ohio EPA after volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, including the contaminant 1,1-dichloroethane, were detected in 1988 in Village production and monitoring wells and in springs in the Glen Helen Nature Preserve.
Sewage treatment moving ahead
The Ohio EPA confirmed this week that it is reviewing a permit-to-install application for a new sanitary sewer system at Morris Bean. The current biological sewage treatment plant and pond system has been operating inefficiently and might be contaminating the Village well field, the Ohio EPA previously reported.
Morris Bean will replace its aging “package plant” sewage treatment system, built in 1967, with a new mound system, according to Pierce, the Ohio EPA spokesperson. Since the system will be a non-discharging soil-based system, an NPDES permit will not be required, Pierce said.
On numerous occasions since the late 1990s, the Ohio EPA has recommended that Morris Bean either upgrade its on-site biological sewage treatment plant and pond or tie into the Village’s sewer since the treatment system no longer meets current environmental standards. The current package plant is located about 1,600 feet away from the area in which sinkholes are forming and its effluent is not infiltrating the sinkhole, Pierce added.
The Village initially agreed to connect Morris Bean to its sewer system in a 2010 Council resolution, but the project was canceled last year after funding was lost for the project and the Village re-affirmed a policy to not extend utilities outside its borders without annexing.
In a statement this week, Magro expressed his disappointment that the sewer link-up did not move forward. He wrote that Morris Bean and the Village worked for eight years to connect the company to the Village’s sewer system in what was seen as beneficial for both the company and community, but that “various changes have impeded progress towards what was considered a worthwhile goal.”
“We are disappointed that agreement could not be reached despite the obvious advantages to both the Company and the Village,” he wrote. “Due to the difficulties encountered the Company is moving forward with plans for an independent on site treatment system.”