Factories that once brought jobs to the region and fueled the post-war economic growth left behind an unwanted legacy: toxic waste.
Today, it is buried in old industrial sites and landfills that pose potential threats to the massive underground aquifer that provides drinking water to local communities.
While most of those old industrial sites have been cleaned up to an acceptable level, some remain a threat to water quality. Chief among them is the Tremont City Barrel Fill just north of Springfield that took waste from factories throughout the region in the 1970s.
Alice Daniels lives nearby and worries about waste from the landfill contaminating wells that are the only source of drinking water in the community.
“We like the area,” Daniels said. “But it’s frightening.”
For years the community has pushed for the liquid and solid waste in the landfill to be dealt with before it leaks into the aquifer. Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said the waste in the landfill is well documented, including pesticides, paint waste, chemical degreasers and cleaning materials, most of it contained in steel barrels buried under 30 feet of dirt.
“The remedy right now is we are going to dig it all up and take any of the liquid waste and remove it off-site. We are going to take out the ‘still-bottoms’ (remnants of purification processes) and then all of the hazardous waste that is solid would go back into a double-lined landfill to make sure it doesn’t leak for a long time into the future,” Patterson said.
The cleanup plan is being negotiated between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the various companies that buried waste there, which will foot the bill for the estimated $28 million project. Patterson said the cost could change.
“Once you dig it up things may not be exactly as you expect. There could be a lot more bad stuff than they think but it is paid for by the potentially responsible parties. Companies that generated the waste back in the 60s and 70s are through federal law are responsible forever,” Patterson said.
Marilyn Welker, director of the community group “People For Safe Water,” has pushed for the project to get underway as soon as possible and to be done right.
“Just because we have corporations who will pay for this cleanup and just because it is in the process of moving towards cleanup at this point we have the remedy we cannot let up the pressure and vigilance and accountability to those who will clean it up,” Welker said.
Patterson said corporate responsibility for the waste left behind continues, even though the waste was generated decades ago.
“Those companies, through federal law, are responsible forever for that chemical. We call it ‘cradle to grave,’ but it means they are even responsible once they are in the grave, in this case the barrel fill. They are responsible forever,” he said.
Where did it all come from?
The waste at the Tremont City Barrel Fill originated at multiple notable companies involved in heavy industry in the region, circa 1970. It included General Motors, International Harvester, Delphi and Proctor and Gamble, which Patterson said did the right thing at the time.
“This was a licensed landfill to do this when they put it in here in the 70’s. All good corporate citizens who have stepped up and will be footing the bill,” Patterson said.
Among the list of contributors to the Tremont City Barrel Fill may be the Mound plant in Miamisburg, which Patterson said likely placed chemical waste there. The Mound is the biggest and most expensive tainted property in Miami Valley history.
The EG&G Mound plant in Miamisburg was originally built by the federal government to support atomic weapons research with production beginning in 1949. When it closed in 2003 it cost taxpayers $1 billion to clean up the chemical and radioactive waste on the 306-acre site.
Redevelopment at the Mound site is underway with some restrictions, according to Eric Cluxton, President of the Mound Development Corporation.
“On this property you will never see an elementary school. You will never see a day care center. It is more commercial and industrial standards,” he said.
Even the government’s secret underground building at the Mound, the “T-Building,” that stood for “technology building,” is clean and ready for re-use. The building totals 122,000 square feet on two levels. The 16-foot-thick walls and steel blast doors are designed to withstand enemy attack by ground or air.
Commercial real estate expert Chuck Ackerman of Colliers International said the improving economy has produced a supercharged commercial real estate market, especially for logistics and distribution along the Interstate 75 corridor. Ackerman said some once-tainted properties that might have been passed over years ago might now be given a look by developers or companies wanting to expand.
“Don’t ever count a building or a property or an environmental hazard out nowadays,” Ackerman said.
Redevelopment at the Mound?
Traditionally companies have searched exclusively right along the expressway for property to locate their business, but Ackerman said now they are willing to venture out a few miles to find a suitable site and even if it might have a problem.
“There are state-of-the-art ways to clean up these environmentally tainted properties. We are seeing some specialists and we are fortunate to work with a couple of them. We work hand-in-hand with them and over time they are cleaning them up and repositioning them in the market as clean industrial opportunities,” Ackerman said.
Cluxton said the Mound is just a few minutes’ drive to I-75 at the ever-expanding Austin Boulevard interchange area and he is hoping to be a part of that future growth.
Cleaning up the Mound took the combined political muscle of local members of the U.S. House of Representatives and then Sen. John Glenn. Former Rep. Dave Hobson said it was not in his district but he was involved because he was chair of the House Committee on Energy and Water. He used that position, along with the work of other congressional offices, to force the US Environmental Protection Agency to clean the Mound’s landfill to a higher standard.
“I think the Mound is one of the better success stories of the Department of Energy. My experience is if a United States Senator gets into something, or his office, the agencies really respond much better than just to a Congressman. And if both us get into it then it really makes it happen,” Hobson said.
Tremont City’s residents, meanwhile, are still waiting for their industrial landfill cleanup to come. Patterson said the wait will continue for awhile longer.
“My estimation is it’s going to be another three to four years before we see people out here digging it up and getting that waste processed,” Patterson said.
Alice Daniels said she wants the landfill to be cleaned up properly as soon as possible to protect her well water but finds it is increasing difficult to remain optimistic.
“Very concerning. Maybe even a little scary because the longer it sits the worse it could get. Every election year we hear about how somebody’s going to clean it up,” Daniels said.