Unpleasant Dispute

EPA set to decide final cleanup plan for toxic industrial site

Aug 27, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Another proposal was recently submitted in a 22-year-old legal battle over how to clean up a toxic chemical dumping site in Pleasant Ridge, but community leaders say it still isn't sufficient.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met Aug. 14 with both sides in the dispute over the Emerald Hilton Davis industrial site. The agency heard details about a cleanup proposal submitted by the site's former owner, Eastman Kodak, as well as concerns about the plan from Pleasant Ridge residents.

A final decision is expected by Sept. 21.

The EPA recently accepted a corrective measures report from NPEC Inc., a Kodak subsidiary. It was the fourth version the company had submitted.

The report is the last step of the four-part corrective measures process that includes identifying, evaluating, justifying and then submitting alternative measures for hazardous waste cleanup to the EPA.

"What we are saying through the approval (of the report) is that we feel as if the company has given us enough information to take it to the next step," says Harold O'Connell, supervisor of the Division of Hazardous Waste Management at the Ohio EPA's office in Dayton.

While investigations were being conducted for the report, NPEC applied interim measures at the site that included installing French wells, which are meant to collect contaminated groundwater; installing a clay covering on the former Bloody Creek Ravine landfill; and excavating slit trench areas where concentrated industrial waste was dumped.

"When you have contamination that is there, it's better to take care of it then rather than wait until the end of this process, so that's why the interim measures were done," says James Orto, NPEC project manager.

The EPA now has to decide which measures will be permanently applied toward cleanup of the site, although the agency doesn't necessarily have to implement the alternatives NPEC has submitted.

"From the company's perspective, this is what they see as the preferred long-term remedy," O'Connell says. "Basically, they're continuing to maintain all these controls they put in place, on an interim basis, in conjunction with signing up for an environmental covenant."

An "environmental covenant" designates and regulates the land's future use. If the decision is made that the land is suitable only for industrial purposes, it can't be sold to a buyer who intends to convert it into a residential property. At this point, Eastman Kodak has put a restriction on the deed to prevent the land from reverting back to residential use.

"Based on current land use, it's fair to assert this is an industrial property and that future land use, as long as there is a viable operator, is going to be as an industrial property," O'Connell says.

Many Pleasant Ridge residents disagree with the alternatives put on the table via the corrective measures study report.

"They have not ultimately listened to our demands," says Stephen Simon, president of the Pleasant Ridge Community Council.

The demands included installation of vacuum pumps, which would pull out toxic vapors from the ground, and excavation of all lead hot spots. In other words, NPEC's proposal would contain the toxins at the site while neighborhood residents want the toxins removed, which would allow the option of reverting the property back to residential use again.

If the EPA agrees with NPEC, only industrial uses would be allowed on the property, which has nearby residents worried.

"If the 80-acre site is abandoned, it will be left sitting in our community," says Marjorie Evert, chairwoman of Concerned Citizens about Hilton Davis.

A 1986 consent decree kick-started the cleanup and states that residents should have input throughout the cleanup process.

"We've been working with them for 20 years, and that's what we want to stick with," Simon says.

Despite requests from neighbors, the EPA didn't require the stricter cleanup standard needed to support residential development.

"This is consistent with how the EPA implements cleanup programs on properties," O'Connell says. "If we entertain industrial exposure assumptions at an industrial property of one location, we basically have to entertain the same assumptions at another location."

As part of the court-approved consent decree, NPEC must clean the site in a way that ensures protection for public health, welfare and the environment "of the highest degree."

Although NPEC has applied interim measures, its suggested final solution seems designed to reduce costs rather than make sure the cleanup is done at the highest level possible, according to a letter Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory sent to the EPA.

For more than two decades, the sides have gone back and forth with their experts to provide information about why its cleanup methods would best fit the court-ordered requirements. Simon doesn't believe NPEC's proposal is sufficient.

"We proposed that an independent consulting group do a study to look at the feasibility of the proposals Kodak has made," he says. "With the independent group out there, we feel that will give the community faith in the process."

Residents organized to bring about change at the Hilton Davis site in the early 1980s after dumping of toxins into the property's lagoon caused a horrendous odor in the neighborhood.

Although there have been reports that residents' exposure to the toxins caused several people to develop cancer, Evert says it's virtually impossible to conclusively trace the origins of the cause back to the site.

Until 1980, companies could use the land as a dumping site in order to cut disposal costs.

"There's a lot of fill material (there)," O'Connell says. "There's a lot of activated carbon, a lot of debris because whenever they were filling up the ravine they were not necessarily discriminating what could go in there."

The goal of creating landfills on the property was to provide more area to develop buildings. A later investigation of the fill area indicated it contained a wide variety of content, toxic and non-toxic, thus concluding the toxic waste dumping likely wasn't done as part of a cover-up.

Once Eastman Kodak cleans the site to the EPA's satisfaction, land ownership will revert to the current owner of the site's manufacturing rights, Emerald Performance Materials. Until then, Eastman Kodak is obligated to pay for the cleanup.