December 4, 2003


Vernay says no immediate cleanup at Dayton St. plants

Vernay Laboratories will not pursue any interim, or immediate, cleanup measures for the soil and groundwater contamination on its Dayton Street property, the company and the U.S. EPA determined in their third quarterly report, released in October. The contamination does not pose an immediate or substantial threat to employees, residents or the environment because people do not come into contact with it, Doug Fisher, Vernay’s environmental and safety manager, said Monday.

The contamination investigation is running on schedule. In September Vernay installed eight additional groundwater monitoring wells on the property and around the perimeter of the contaminant plume on Dayton and Green Streets, Suncrest Drive and Omar Circle. Investigators have found low levels of contaminants in the new wells, but the details will not be available until Dec. 31, when Vernay is scheduled to submit to the EPA a groundwater monitoring technical memorandum summarizing all the data collected to date, Fisher said.

Vernay signed an agreement with the U.S. EPA last fall to remediate its Dayton Street property after it settled a lawsuit with a group of neighbors. Under terms of the settlement, the neighbors have oversight of the cleanup effort.

Although Vernay and the U.S. EPA determined an immediate cleanup is not warranted, the company must eventually remediate the contamination.

Soil and water analyses have identified hazardous levels of mainly tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,2-dichloropropane in the groundwater in the upper and middle levels of the Cedarville aquifer, about 20 to 25 feet below the ground, Fisher said.

The contaminated soil is limited to the Vernay property, but the contaminated groundwater extends below private properties east of Wright Street and on northern Omar Circle.

Hydrogeologists working with Cincinnati attorney D. David Altman, who represented the neighbors in the lawsuit, believe the U.S. EPA fact sheet map, compiled from Vernay’s quarterly cleanup reports and released in an October newsletter, underestimates the extent of the plume.

Samples have detected contaminants in a well on Omar Circle, “MW02-02,” which is not included in the map of the plume. Though Vernay says the plume appears to be stationary, in February 2003 contaminants were found in wells north and south of the plume on Wright Street that were not detected in previous samples, Altman said.

“ Our hydrogeologists feel that shows the plume is expanding,” he said.

The October 2003 fact sheet reports that levels of PCE and TCE in some of the wells have decreased, but Altman said the data ignores the dilution a wet year could have on chemical readings. Other reports show some contaminant levels decreasing but ignore those that have increased, he said. Testing discrepancies indicate that though Vernay reported no contamination of the shallow wells on the eastern edge of a Dayton Street property, Altman’s consultants found significant amounts of TCE and freon in those wells.

Though contamination has not been found below the middle Cedarville aquifer, four of the 47 monitoring wells installed around Vernay extend to the bottom of the aquifer. The rationale behind the position and the depth of well placement should be disclosed to the public, Altman said.

Trish Polston, the U.S. EPA project coordinator, said that Vernay is complying with the consent order in a timely and efficient manner and that sampling has not been extensive enough to draw conclusions at this point.

Those wells that have shown contamination in the past but are not on the plume map have since tested as “non-detect,” Polston said. The Omar Circle well MW02-02, for example, tested above the maximum contamination level of five parts per billion of TCE in 1999, but has been below harmful levels for the past two years.

The EPA mapped the plumes for TCE, PCE and 1,2-dichloropropane because those contaminants were the most abundant and widespread. Detections of other contaminants such as freon and acetone show no significant patterns to map, Polston said.

She added that the depth and location of the monitoring wells is determined by the way in which the layers of rock, clay, sand and soil as well as the contour of the geologic structure below the surface affect groundwater flow. Data gathered from existing wells shows how groundwater is moving and determines the placement of subsequent wells, she said.

More conclusions will be drawn next month once the EPA has studied the technical memorandum from Vernay, Polston said. Vernay will then prepare its “major conclusions” in June 2004 about the most effective cleanup methods and whether to explore the next lowest aquifer, the Brassfield Aquifer.

“ You need a complete picture to analyze what’s going on,” Polston said. “We’re about to make the transition from all these facts to drawing some conclusions.”

— Lauren Heaton