EPA targets 200 Elkhart homes for safeguards against groundwater contamination

Federal EPA urging 70 properties hook up to city water while vapor removal devices suggested for others.

Posted on April 26, 2014 at 2:52 p.m.

ELKHART — After more than a half dozen years of study, the federal government has determined that about 70 properties on the city’s near-west side should be connected to city water because of groundwater contamination.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also suggesting 200 homes inside the Lusher Superfund site need to have vapor removal systems installed to reduce dangerous vapors related to the contamination that can seep through basement walls and foundations.

Specifics on the plan
For more details about the Lusher Superfund site, go to the EPA website.

Those moves are described as interim steps with a price tag of $2.8 million.

A spokesman for the EPA, Francisco Arcaute, said Friday the changes could be implemented in 2015 if the plan moves forward.

The EPA will host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, to discuss the proposals and take public comment before finalizing a strategy. The meeting will be at Calvary United Methodist Church, 2222 W. Indiana Ave.

The superfund site is bounded by the St. Joseph River on the north, Oakland Avenue on the east, Hively Avenue on the south and Nappanee Street on the west.

Long-term cleanup of the contaminated ground is still being considered, according to an updated EPA fact sheet released this month.

The EPA still has not identified the sources of the contamination, but suggested in the report that it could involve multiple parties.

If approved and implemented, the final decision on whether to participate is up to individual property owners.

“They don’t have to, but we strongly urge them to,” said Cheryl Allen, community involvement coordinator for the EPA.

Allen said people rarely reject the offers.

{Check out a detailed map at the bottom of this story}

Projects are paid with money from the Superfund, which generates some of its funds through from sources responsible for the contamination.

There is no cost to the property owners or the city to implement the improvements, Allen said.

The federal government will cover the entire cost of the interim measures and is then expected to seek reimbursement if and when parties responsible for the contamination are identified.

The city typically charges two types of fees for extending sewer service, but normally waives those costs under such circumstances, said Mayor Dick Moore.

The greatest concentration of concern for the interim measures appears to be south of McNaughton Park and the river and north of the railroad tracks.

According to the EPA report, the greatest concentration of hazardous vapors appears to be around the intersection of West Indiana Avenue and West Franklin Street.

The report outlined several details for the proposals.

After water lines are extended to the properties, future use of existing wells and installation of private wells would be prohibited.

Homes and buildings designated for vapor removal would have mitigation systems installed to draw out vapors from inside and vent the vapors to the outdoors.

New construction within the area would require vapor intrusion devices. 

The report said vapor removal could continue until long-term groundwater cleanup is achieved.

Groundwater contaminants primarily include trichloroethylene and trichloroethane, both commonly used as degreasers and solvents, according to the EPA.

With those types of contaminants, health concerns typically focus mostly on pregnant women, unborn children and young children, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A spokesman for the EPA said they are not aware of any documented health problems.

A 2008 report said the superfund site is home to about 2,600 residents, including 286 children age 6 and younger and more than 500 women in their childbearing years.

Government officials have been looking into concerns about groundwater contamination since 1987 when they discovered an underground plume.

The area was added to the EPA’s national priority list in 2007.

Lusher Superfund Site

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