July 31, 2003


More tests needed at Vernay before cleanup can begin

Still in the first phase of the environmental cleanup schedule that Vernay Laboratories agreed to under the supervision of the U.S. EPA, Vernay opted not to begin soil remediation at its Dayton Street facility, saying it needed more information on the extent of the contamination, an agency official said this week.

Since Vernay signed the “Administrative Order on Consent” with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last September, the remediation process has proceeded right on schedule, Trish Polston, the EPA project manager, said. In February Vernay completed the first quarterly round of groundwater and soil testing for potentially harmful chemicals of concern (COCs) and submitted a progress report, which is available in the Yellow Springs Library. With these results and some previous data the company collected under supervision by the Ohio EPA from 1999, the U.S. EPA was able to generate a map of the contamination area, published in a fact sheet that was distributed in June.

According to the U.S. EPA’s remediation update from June, the estimated contamination plumes for both trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) form an oval shape stretching eastward from Vernay’s facility past Wright Street, following the general eastward flow of groundwater in that area. A 1,2-dichloropropane plume is much smaller and is contained on Vernay’s property.

Studies also detected PCE, TCE and toluene in the stormwater drainage area located at the northeast corner of Vernay’s site on Dayton Street, which flows in the direction of the unnamed stream to the northeast of the facility. Though other volatile organic compounds and metals such as freon, cis-1,2-dichloroethene and chromium were detected on and around the site, the chemicals that formed the plumes were the most extensive, Polston said.

Most of the contamination found so far appears to be concentrated in the upper portion of the Cedarville Aquifer, the 50-foot layer of soil and rock closest to the surface. Vernay’s quarterly progress report from April also reveals detections of most of the COCs in the middle portion of the aquifer and some in the surface water around Vernay’s plants, though in relatively small proportions.

None of the deeper 100-foot wells testing the middle and lower portions of the Cedarville aquifer have been installed off site yet, but the company is currently in the process of using geoprobes to find the best spots for six new deeper wells along Wright Street, Omar Circle and on private property to the southeast of the facility, Doug Fisher, Vernay’s environmental affairs and safety manager, said on Tuesday.

Vernay submitted its third quarterly progress report on July 15, but the results have not yet been made available to the public. Fisher said that the report confirmed the boundaries of the plume generated by the first rounds of testing. The U.S. EPA expects to distribute another fact sheet next month that would summarize the July progress report.

“The investigation is proceeding on schedule and in compliance with the administrative order, and we’re already beginning work that needs to be completed in September,” Fisher said. “The order is proceeding right as we had expected.”

Vernay has been investigating its facility for toxic chemicals since the early 1990s. In early 2002 Vernay settled a lawsuit with a group of neighbors over the contamination of the site, giving the neighbors compensation and oversight of the company’s cleanup. Vernay later signed the agreement with the U.S. EPA to remediate the contamination in the area of its Dayton Street facility.

Fisher said that Vernay has allocated a good deal of its resources toward remediating the contamination on its property, which company officials have said was one of the reasons Vernay decided last summer to close down its Yellow Springs manufacturing operations. The largest local plant, Plant 3, closed at the end of last month.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of money in this process for a company our size,” Fisher said. When asked how much money Vernay has spent on the process Fisher deferred to Tom Allen, the company’s president and CEO. Allen was out of town and unavailable for comment.

At least one U.S. EPA official has said that Vernay did not have to close the local plants to facilitate the cleanup.

The EPA’s cleanup schedule predicted Vernay might be ready to start treating contaminated soil last month. However, pilot studies comparing the various possible treatment methods need to be completed to determine the best cleanup strategy, Polston said.

“We need a better understanding of what’s going on. We can’t make any general conclusions,” she said.

In addition to the 27 monitoring wells around the facility, Vernay will install several more monitoring wells and geoprobes on and off the property, near Wright Street and Omar Circle, within the next few months to better determine how wide and how deep the plumes are. Vernay will also install wells on Dayton Street to monitor the stormwater basin, where additional contamination has been detected.

As an additional interim remediation measure, Vernay installed in January a second capture well at the northeast corner of its facility that would, like the first capture well at the southeast edge of the company’s property, pump contaminated groundwater through it to be treated and discharged through the Village sewage lines. The pump wells help slow the spread of contamination, Polston said.

If the cleanup effort stays on schedule, the results of all the upper levels of groundwater and soil testing should be completed by June 2004, and part of the soil treatment should be underway, Polston said. If contamination is found to be deeper than the Cedarville aquifer, groundwater and soil tests will be initiated in the ground level below, called the Brassfield aquifer.

—Lauren Heaton