FRANKLIN, Ind. - Dozens of people crowded into the Franklin Branch of the Johnson County Library for an open house meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The EPA was answering questions primarily about the progress of the sewer replacement project along Forsythe Street. Crews began repaving portions of Forsythe Street and Hamilton Avenue beginning on November 22.
Joe Cisneros, the EPA's Chief of Corrective Action Program, said crews found an old contaminated sewer line left behind in the late 1980s.
"During a slow period, we had them go back onto the Amphenol site," Cisneros said. "There was a piece of sewer line that was the original contaminated sewer line that probably caused all these problems in the first place. They had just sealed it on both ends and left it in place."
Cisneros reports that sewer line has been removed. In October, the EPA began a pilot study to decide whether contaminated groundwater near the former Amphenol site can be cleaned up by using "PlumeStop" in two areas in the neighborhood south of the site.
"PlumeStop" is a liquid made up of activated carbon and iron injected into the ground. The EPA said that liquid mixes with the contaminated soil and breaks apart the chemicals to make a harmless material.
"After it looks like it is going to work, we would have them go full scale and we would put in a bunch of wells all along the known plume," Cisneros said.
Cisneros said there would also be other testing too.
"We would also have them take spot samples just to make sure that we didn't miss anything and that everything has been treated," Cisneros assured.
Cisneros said the EPA will reach back out to neighbors within the plume to make sure they are still safe if this PlumeStop material works.
"What we'll do at that point is we will give it some period of time, I don't know whether it's going to be next year or the year after, but we will ask people to turn off their treatment units in their homes," Cisneros explained. "Then we will re-test the air to see if there are still volatile organics coming in somehow. We don't expect to see them."
Cisneros also explained to FOX59 what levels they are looking for to deem the environment safe for people.
"We are looking for non-detect based on what our level of concern is which is a pretty low level in the air," Cisneros said. "So we would be looking to be below that level of non-concern."
Cisneros said he believes the EPA will take a "better be safe than sorry approach" with putting wells into the area around the Amphenol plume.
"We'll probably have them test to tell us where exactly the plume is to make sure we're going to get it," Cisneros said. "Something tells me we're going to have them put in wells that are down at the very end of what we think the plume is, and put in PlumeStop there, just to make sure if anything has gone further or escaped, that we will get it going beyond what we need to do."
Recently, many community members found out the new information regarding the Hougland Plume. That plume is over the former Hougland Tomato Cannery property at the Hurricane Industry Complex east.
As neighbors learned this information, IDEM's team tells FOX59 they have had the information all along.
"In our previous information sessions, we've told people Hougland has a groundwater contamination problem," Kevin Davis said. "In fact, one of our maps we brought from a previous information session."
Davis is a technical environmental specialist with IDEM. He said the reason for the release of the latest map is due to more test results.
"It wasn't until we got this most recent round of preliminary data, we were able to draw the map to make it easier for them to digest," Davis said.
Davis confirmed there is a portion of the Hougland plume with higher levels of contamination than the Amphenol plume. He also said people must understand the differences between the two. Davis said the contamination spread through sewer lines and vapors into homes. He said the Hougland plume traveled from the soil to groundwater and beyond.
"It's a deeper plume than what the EPA has dealt with," Davis said. "[The Amphenol plume] was a very shallow issue."
Davis said there are more differences as well when looking at the structures on the separate plumes.
"The buildings we're looking at are typically high bay, open buildings," Davis explained. "It's somewhat difficult to get vapor intrusion within them because you have frequent air exchanges. Homes don't. Homes have very defined rooms where vapors can accumulate. That gave us some early indication that there isn't likely to be a problem."
IDEM required additional sampling for vapor intrusion issued at the buildings on the site of the former Hougland cannery. Davis confirmed one building, the Crossroads Recycling Building, did have some vapor intrusion issues.
"That building there takes recycling materials," Davis explained. "It takes in metal shavings from the Reed Manufacturing next door, it takes in appliances, it takes in all sorts of things. We're still in the process of now determining, based upon the data we've got, if they're accepting chemicals or some of the things they accept have those exact same chemicals in it. The numbers that we've seen don't seem to make sense. They don't match up very well. That's why additional investigation is going to occur at that facility."
Davis was adamant people around the area are safe.
"There is no possible exposure to the contamination that's out in the farm field and within the Hougland area," Davis said. "There's just no exposures. If you don't have any exposures, it's not possible to have an unsafe environment."
Davis said their inspection of sewers found no indication of illegal dumping regarding the Hougland site, and no detection south of the site.
"We've had groundwater monitoring wells done by both us and the city's environmental consultant, that have shown there is nothing coming from Hougland to the south," Davis said. "There is nothing from Hougland heading to the north, there's nothing from Hougland headed to the west. We're looking farther to the east, southeast.We know where the line of non-detections is around Hougland. We're defining it narrower within that bound of non-detections so we can get an appropriate remedial action proposed there."
Davis said the way IDEM knows there was no risk to human health comes down to the experience of the scientists.
"Early on, you do an assessment," Davis said. "Pretty much, it's experience of the people looking at it. For example, I'm a geologist. I've worked with the agency 25 years. I've had environmental consulting experience, so I've had approximately 30 years of experience in looking at all sorts of situations. In geology, I reviewed investigation plans and gave them comments on where they could finish the investigation. On looking at the information early on, it didn't look like there to be any exposure issues, especially once [Webb Wellfield] was shut down. Now, the well field was supplying water that met all drinking water standards, but the numbers were creeping up. So, it was either time for them to do something to address that or close it down and they closed down the well field."
Community's Concern about Cancer Diagnoses
For nearly two years, FOX59 has spoken with families who believe the issues surrounding the contamination in Franklin are directly related to their children's cancer diagnosis. Some of those children have even passed away.
One example is of a child who spent time at a local gymnastics center. IDEM responded to those concerns.
"Unfortunately, we're dealing with very technical issues and health issues," Davis said. "I am not a health expert. I can tell you what's getting in there versus what's not getting in there. We've got the data. Now what people have in terms of their feelings, that's their feelings. That's perfectly valid.I don't wish to dismiss that in any way shape or form, however the data we have does not point to that as being a possibility."