After 16 years, 16 companies that make up the Central Chemical Group have agreed to pay $250,000 to develop a detailed plan to clean up contaminated soil and wastes at a site in Hagerstown, MD, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said last week.
The settlement is another step in the long process of cleaning up the Superfund site off Mitchell Avenue in Hagerstown, and protecting public health and the environment, EPA spokeswoman Bonnie Smith said.
“This is a planning step,” she said. “All these cleanups are extensive. They’re complex, and so you need to have a very clear and detailed plan for cleaning them up.” The EPA estimates it will take about two years to complete the cleanup design for the Hagerstown site.
Superfund is the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, according to the EPA website.
Smith said cleanup of the site continues to be a twofold process. The settlement will address the plan for cleaning up a variety of chemicals in the soil, while they will take care of a plan for cleaning up contaminated groundwater at a future date, she said.
“Both parts are happening, but … on separate tracks,” Smith said, noting additional investigative work into groundwater contamination is ongoing. “We are definitely moving ahead, and that’s good news.”
The 19-acre property ended up on the Superfund list in 1997. The EPA said agricultural pesticides and fertilizers ended up blended at the plant from the 1930s to the 1960s, although the corporation continued some operations at the plant until 1984. The building ended up demolished in 2005.
Documented contaminants at the site include arsenic, lead and pesticides, such as chlordane, DDT and lindane, although the EPA categorizes the risk of exposure to the chemicals as “low,” because there is fencing around the site, and the area residents’ drinking water comes from the city’s self-contained system.
The 16 companies in the settlement include: Arkema Inc.; Bayer Crop Science, LP; E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co.; FMC Corp.; Honeywell International Inc.; Lebanon Seaboard Corp.; Montrose Chemical Corp. of California; News Publishing Australia Limited; Occidental Chemical Corp.; Olin Corp.; Rohm and Haas Co.; Rhone-Poulenc; Shell Oil Co.; Syngenta Crop Protection LLC; Union Carbide Corp.; and Wilmington Securities Inc., according to the EPA release.
Following an extensive initial investigation, the EPA in 2009 selected a cleanup plan for the contaminated soil and waste portion of the property near Maryland Metals.
The EPA considered six options for cleanup after receiving community response, according to the agency.
In 1997, the EPA identified at least seven companies “potentially liable” for the site’s contamination and they had agreed to pay for studies, according to published reports.
Smith said she is unsure how that number has grown to 16, but all the companies named have accepted the responsibility to help clean up the property.
The majority of solid waste material appears contained within an on-site depression, or a “waste lagoon,” in the northeast portion of the property, the EPA said. The lagoon contains high concentrations of pesticides and heavy metal components previously buried.
In July, contractors working at the site drilled groundwater-monitoring wells to obtain soil and water samples to determine the extent of contamination in the ground.
EPA officials over the summer were testing a cleanup method — both in the laboratory and in pilot field tests — that would solidify the soil waste in a concrete-like substance.
The area would then end up capped to protect it from further damaging surrounding soil and groundwater.
Smith said results of the lab and field tests are still undergoing analysis, but to date, “all indications are good” the identified method would protect the area from further contamination.
Groundwater contamination goes beyond the Central Chemical property boundary lines, according to the EPA, and officials drilled wells on adjacent properties to gauge contamination levels.
A cleanup plan for groundwater contamination hasn’t yet been determined.
A spokeswoman for Central Chemical said in July the group of companies wants to return the property to light industrial and commercial uses with natural buffer areas after the cleanup.