EPA officials peppered with questions over contamination

Lusher Superfund action plan will be developed with public comments in mind.

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 6:34 p.m.

ELKHART — Lee Bradley’s "comment" was more of a question during the Environmental Protection Agency’s public meeting Tuesday, April 29, about the Lusher Superfund site.

He was more concerned about the impact on property values that might come with installing a vapor removal system in his house than the health affect of groundwater contamination that officials believe is under his home.

Bradley left the meeting feeling overwhelmed by an array of statistics and jargon presented by EPA officials. His distrust of the government remains even though the agency is tentatively offering to assist property owners free of charge with a remedy that will cost $2.8 million.

“I brought a knife to a gunfight,” Bradley said. “They just bombarded us with these terms — the last time I heard that stuff was when I was in college,” Bradley said.

He said he might be less inclined to allow the government to install a vapor removal system if it would hurt the value of his house located along the St. Joseph River.

Among his questions that stir his distrust, Bradley said, is why he wasn’t informed about the contamination when he bought the house 13 years ago.

Bradley was one of about 30 people who attended the meeting at Calvary United Methodist Church to learn more about the agency’s preliminary plans that includes paying for connection to city water for 70 homes and the installation of vapor removal systems for 200 homes in the area.

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.

Bradley’s comment was only one of three or so received Tuesday and those will be used to help determine whether the agency will proceed with its proposal. A public comment period will continue until May 22.

The comment period dwarfed a question and answer session.

The fact 30 or so people turned out for the meeting and offered so few official comments is an indication that most people may very well support the plan, said an attorney for the EPA, Tom Krueger.

“We tend to get more comments when people have reservations about the plan,” Krueger said.

Among the highlights of the meeting:

■ The plume of concentrated chemicals is 3,800 feet wide and 67 feet deep north of tracks and continues to move slowly toward the river.

■ While there is concern for public safety, officials have not found any ecological damage to the river as a result of the contamination.

■ Vapor intrusion systems consist of PVC pipe, fan and vent. The pipe can begin under the basement floor of just above. In the latter, a sheet is spread just above the pipe opening to help collect vapors.

■ The EPA has sent letters to nine entities that are viewed as potential responsible parties linked to the contamination. Another 40 questionnaires have been sent to other facilities to determine if they might be responsible.

■ The concentration of contamination has decreased over years in some areas, but officials believe that can change as the plume shifts. The project manager said that despite what seems like a large amount of testing, they have been limited by the agency’s financial constraints.

■ A map highlighting concentrations of specific contaminants will be posted online soon, EPA officials say.

■ No specific timetable was given on when the plan would be implemented, if approved.

Long-term cleanup of the contaminated ground is still being considered.

Property owners will have the final say in whether they want the vapor removal systems installed or whether they want to be hooked up to city water.

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.

Lusher Superfund site

If approved and 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.

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

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.


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