How Clean Is Clean?

Residents: Proposed fix for Hilton Davis site isn’t enough

A 20-year investigation and debate over toxic waste at a Pleasant Ridge industrial site may be nearing its end, as state regulators have issued a draft plan to clean the Hilton Davis chemical facility — a plan that many nearby residents call insufficient.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the plan late last month and will hold a final public hearing on the matter Feb. 25 at Pleasant Ridge Community Center.

“This is essentially a draft of the recommendation (that) staff makes to the director of the Ohio EPA on what we believe is the proper remedy for the site,” says Ohio EPA spokesperson Dina Pierce. “It’s a fairly straightforward process.”

But not everyone involved in the issue feels the same. “It’s immensely frustrating,” says Steve Simon, former Pleasant Ridge community councilman and chair of the neighborhood’s Hilton Davis committee. “I’m immensely disappointed with the Ohio EPA.”

To understand the stakes at the meeting, it helps to know the Hilton Davis site’s history. A string of companies have produced dyes, pigments, food coloring and other chemicals at the plant since it opened in 1927. The chemical processes used at the plant produced waste that plant operators disposed of in open lagoons and a series of ravine and trench landfills.

This is where the issues began. Pleasant Ridge residents started getting concerned over strong smells coming from the plant in the 1980s, according to Simon. Investigators traced the odors to toxic waste in lagoons on six of the site’s 80 acres and the neighborhood, with the help of Hamilton County officials, took the company to court.

“In the ‘80s, they rose up and demanded a cleanup of the site,” Simon says. “That was cleaned up to top standards.”

After the lagoon cleanup, the Ohio EPA entered into a consent decree with Hilton Davis. The court-sanctioned agreement called for a study on the extent of pollution at the site. A series of trenches and ravine landfills came to the forefront as containing toxic waste, and the company — under court order — hired an outside analyst to propose a cleanup plan that would protect the site’s neighbors and surrounding ecosystem.

All along, Pierce says, local residents have been a part of the process.

“The community there is very well versed in that site,” she says. “We’ve always heard from them and know pretty much what they think.”

Simon became involved in Pleasant Ridge’s efforts regarding the site in 2006, and his view of the situation differs from Pierce’s.

“As far as we’re concerned, Ohio EPA’s plan is Kodak’s plan,” he says, referring to the parent company of the site’s current owner.

The EPA’s draft document seems to back this up. On pages 7 and 8 of the 71-page document, a chart lists the EPA’s environmental remediation recommendations alongside those of North Pastoria Environmental Co., the Kodak-owned landowner responsible for the cleanup. With two exceptions (the installation of extra monitoring equipment on one landfill and the excavation of another), the EPA’s 15 recommendations are near mirror-image reflections of what the company sought.

With the exception of one landfill, the EPA contends in its report that the ground under the site is stable enough, with the toxins found at such low concentrations, that there isn’t a substantial threat to the neighbors, their groundwater or the surrounding air and soil if they’re contained, rather than removed. The agency’s recommendations call for either clay/soil or asphalt to be applied to seal the landfills, monitoring equipment to be installed to catch any leaks in the system and a groundwater cleaning system to be installed.

“We perceived it as putting a layer of soil over the toxic waste and walking away,” Simon says. “What we wanted is a cleanup.”

The community leader said he and other Pleasant Ridge residents are working to spread word about the February meeting in the hope that a large turnout may sway the EPA to change its recommendations to ones focused more on cleanup than containment.

“We are going to try for as big a turnout as we can at that meeting,” he says.

There is a chance comments from the meeting could lead to a change in the EPA’s final recommendation, according to Pierce.

“In some cases it may cause us to rethink things, go back and take another look,” she says. “In a lot of cases we can say during a public meeting, ‘here’s why (we did it this way),’ or ‘we hadn’t thought of that, let’s put it on a recommendation and go look at it.’ ” While Pierce added that there’s no standard by which to judge whether public comments from the meeting will indeed change the EPA’s final recommendations, she did say that the remediation at the site could begin as early as this year. Once the EPA recommendation is finalized, the company has 30 days to prepare a remediation plan and another 30 days after that to put the plan in motion. Everything, however, hinges on when the recommendation gets finalized. And that could depend on how many — and what kind of — comments residents bring to the meeting.

“The comments we get will be good ones,” she says, “because the community is very knowledgeable about the site.

“That always helps.”

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the plan late last month and will hold a final public hearing on the matter Feb. 25 at Pleasant Ridge Community Center.

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