October 17, 2002

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Vernay, EPA finalize plan for Dayton St. site cleanup

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the agency and Vernay Laboratories had entered into an administrative order on consent regarding cleanup of hazardous waste on and around the company’s Dayton Street property.

The U.S. EPA-supervised cleanup was a requirement of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by six neighbors against Vernay. The lawsuit, filed in 1999, was settled in February 2002, with Vernay paying $850,000 in attorney fees for the plaintiffs’ attorney, David Altman of Cincinnati, and an undisclosed amount to the plaintiffs. The settlement also included a $25,000 fine against Vernay for violation of the Clean Water Act and $455,000 to be used by the plaintiffs for oversight of the cleanup.

In May, the U.S. EPA labeled Vernay a “high priority” cleanup site.

Beginning in 1989, high levels of volatile inorganic chemicals have been found in soil and groundwater at the site. Contaminants have also been found on Wright Street, Dayton Street and Omar Circle. Following a new discovery in 1998, Vernay attempted to begin a voluntary cleanup under the auspices of the Ohio EPA, but stopped cleanup attempts when neighbors filed the lawsuit, according to Vernay CEO Tom Allen.

Both Vernay and Altman expressed satisfaction with the EPA order, which was finalized on Sept. 27.

“We’re very pleased that the order was finally issued,” said Altman. “This is the centerpiece for the cleanup that we’ve been waiting for.”

“We’re very glad we can get started,” Allen said. “We’ve been committed to the cleanup of the site since we found the evidence in 1998. At that time we acted as quickly as we could, acknowledging the problem and beginning an investigation and cleanup.”

In June, Vernay announced plans to close its two Dayton Street plants, in part, to facilitate its cleanup effort. The company also cited Vernay’s poor financial performance in recent years for the closure, which will eliminate 185 local jobs.

In July, a second lawsuit was filed against Vernay by one of its neighbors, claiming solid and hazardous wastes originating from Vernay have contaminated the neighbor’s property.

The “Administrative Order on Consent” is a “streamlined” version of a traditional EPA order, said EPA Project Manager Patricia Polston, who will oversee the cleanup. The streamlined order attempts to move cleanup efforts along more quickly than traditional orders, she said, since the order uses an informal system of checks, such as e-mails and phone calls, rather than formal, time-consuming checks. Thus, the cleanup effort can move more quickly through the system, she said.

The EPA tends to choose the streamlined order for businesses that are cooperative, she said, and “we have found Vernay to be very cooperative.”

Rather than a unilateral order, a streamlined order works with negotiated goals to which both parties agree, she said.

The order’s plan begins with investigation of the extent of soil and groundwater pollution both on and off site, said Polston, because “right now we do not know the extent of the plume” of contamination originating from Vernay’s property.

The order requests that by the end of November Vernay provide the EPA with a current conditions report that includes recent sampling from the facility. The facility does currently monitor several wells both on and off site, Allen said.

The cleanup effort will take place in two phases, according to Polston, beginning with testing of the storm sewer system and of the Cedarville aquifer, which is located directly beneath the Vernay site, from about 4 feet to a depth of about 100 feet. Previous testing has indicated a “high level of contaminants” in the middle region of the Cedarville aquifer, according to Altman, but deeper testing has not been done.

The first phase involves quarterly reports of groundwater monitoring of the Cedarville aquifer as well as the installation of additional groundwater capture wells in the aquifer, according to the EPA order. The investigation of the upper, middle and lower levels of the Cedarville aquifer will be completed no later than June 30, 2004, according to the order.

During the cleanup’s first phase, Vernay will also submit to the EPA at specific intervals evidence that migration of groundwater from the Cedarville aquifer has been stabilized and that “all current human exposures to contamination at or from the facility are under control.”

If contamination is found in the lower level of the Cedarville aquifer, then the cleanup will enter Phase II. In the second phase, Vernay will be required to conduct tests in the Brassfield aquifer, which is located below the Cedarville aquifer, according to the order. These tests, and a facility investigation report, must be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2004, according to the EPA order.

Research into possible contamination of the Brassfield aquifer is “very important,” according to Antioch College geology professor Peter Townsend, because the aquifer may flow into the Village wellfields, which are located several miles south of town.

“No one knows the answer” to whether or not the Brassfield aquifer flows into the wellfields, said Townsend, because “there hasn’t been enough investigation yet.”


—Diane Chiddister