Soil and water

Hamilton government plans to buy Chem-Dyne Superfund site

HAMILTON, Ohio – Hamilton officials are considering purchasing parts of the former Chem-Dyne Superfund site, an area of ​​land so notorious for pollution that it made national headlines and was a notable case for the cleaning the environment. Besides pollution, this also worried the townspeople in the 1970s, as fires were occurring there.

Chem-Dyne was a company that aspired to recycle hazardous chemicals and accepted tens of thousands of oil barrel-sized containers filled with pesticides, chlorinated hydrocarbons, waste oil, PCBs, metals. heavy and cyanide sludge.

Pollution leaving the site has killed more than a million fish and aquatic animals in the Great Miami River, with copious amounts of the chemicals seeping into the soil below.

The site, at 500 Joe Nuxhall Blvd., is now a grass field with a small building. It can no longer be used for houses, apartments or other residential purposes, although things such as ball fields, parking lots and roads may be allowed.

So why would the city government of Hamilton, which fought in court over a cleanup, now want to buy part of the site?

To make sure someone else doesn’t buy it and do something irresponsible, City Manager Joshua Smith said in an interview.

“It’s more about keeping it out of someone else’s hands,” Smith said.

Several months ago, Butler County planned to auction off part of the land owned by a company that did not pay taxes. The city urged the county not to auction it off.

“And they said, ‘Well take it then, if you don’t want somebody else to have it,’ Smith said in an interview.

The county has agreed not to auction the site if the city makes a relatively quick decision on whether to own the land.

The city met with the trust organization responsible for the site’s cleanup and monitoring, who liked the idea of ​​Hamilton buying it because they work with the city on a regular basis, Smith said.

“I was just worried about the responsibility of this one,” Smith said. So he asked Andrew Kolesar, an environmental lawyer at Thompson Hine, who grew up in Lindenwald, to explain to city council and the public on Wednesday the problems property could pose for the city government.

Kolesar said the city will have little responsibility as long as it does not use the land for prohibited purposes or disturb the ceiling that covers it. Almost all of the responsibility lies with the more than 100 organizations that are subject to a court ruling to fund its cleanup and monitoring.

Kolesar said federal and state environmental protection agencies wrote “letters of comfort” to the city, saying the trust and these more than 100 companies remain responsible for the pollution at the site, “not the city.” .

The January city council will consider making the purchase, possibly at auction.

The history of the Chem-Dyne site

The property began as a manufacturing site in the 1920s, and this continued until Chem-Dyne took over in the 1970s. Kolesar noted that the country’s significant environmental laws began in the 1970s. Also, the Superfund program, to treat polluted sites, was started in 1980, “which is probably no coincidence that Chem-Dyne closed in 1980, and went bankrupt,” he said.

Because Chem-Dyne was insolvent, state and federal regulators turned to 174 companies and other organizations that had sent waste to the site. These companies have signed a consent decree to clean up the property and have so far paid $ 36 million over the decades for the cleanup. Today, 103 of the still existing companies remain responsible for financing pollutant monitoring. These include large companies such as Pfizer, BASF and DuPont.

The location of the property was of particular concern as it sits above the great Miami aquifer, a giant groundwater source that holds 1.5 trillion gallons of water and meets the needs of 3 million people. consumers of drinking water.

By court order the buildings were demolished, the many barrels were removed, the top layers of contaminated soil were removed in the 1980s, a clay and plastic cap was placed over the site to prevent rain from entering and pushing the soil below. descend into the aquifer.

To remove significant groundwater contamination, a trust was formed that pumped water from the basement, cleaned it up, and returned it underground, a process that continued until 2015.

Currently, regulators monitor chemical migrations from the property with the belief that “the concentrations in groundwater are low enough that there is … no real benefit from treating them, but they will disperse, they will dilute, they do naturally, it will degrade (decrease).

But the confidence created to clean up the site and monitor the movement of pollutants “will be needed to monitor this groundwater for many years to come, to make sure nothing unexpected happens,” Kolesar said.

Ball fields, parking lots are allowed there, as long as the earthen and plastic cap above the ground, to protect the rain from pollution, is not compromised.

Council member Michael Ryan on Wednesday expressed his concern about unforeseen costs the city could face: By the way, we have these three things that we are now responsible (for) doing.

Ryan recently read a five-year pollution analysis on the site which he found reassuring about the progress. But he said he was concerned about possible future changes that could affect who might be responsible for the site.

Kolesar has promised to investigate this.