Meanwhile, back in Osceola (where the wind comes sweeping down the postglacial plain)…

One core feature of the Superfund program is the Five Year Review. So long as any residual contamination remains from a site above some pretty low estimated risk level, someone has to complete a Five Year Review every, well, five years ad infinitum to keep us all up to date on the situation.

I have to think that in 1980 the writers of the CERCLA legislation that started the Superfund program did not anticipate so many sites would take so long to clean up. At some point, I suspect the Five Year Review restriction will be relaxed for sites like Galen Myers, where not much is changing and it’s quite difficult to imagine a surprise coming up. In the meantime, the cost of hiring a consultant to do your Five Year Review is a not insignificant part of the effective penalty for contaminating a site so intensely as to put it on the NPL… unless, of course, you’re Galen Myers, and you conveniently got out of the way, leaving the cost burden to us.

The most recent Five Year Review (5YR) for Galen Myers is on the EPA website. Let’s grade my memories against the records on pp. 26-28:

Galen Myers operated from c. 1970 – 1983 (check). The country board of health heard complaints in 1981, kicked them up to the Indiana State Board of Health (IDEM would not be split off until 1986), who investigated and called in the EPA. EPA stopped by and actually talked to the man himself in June 1983, but he died shortly thereafter. (So my memories there were vague, and the situation blew up before GM left the scene.) In 1984 the place was already abandoned. The 5YR does not comment on any transfer of ownership.

Several rounds of sampling and cleanup ensued from 1984 to 1996. Eventually the actual former Galen Myers property got pretty close to entirely cleaned up; however, the huge inaccessible plume of contaminated groundwater was initially dealt with by issuing bottled water and installing various kinds of filters at affected houses. In 1995, EPA issued its Record of Decision, the formal plan for “what in God’s name we’re going to do about this mess,” and in 1996 its key provision was implemented, which was to pipe that water all the way out from bloody Mishawaka and hook up most of 200 houses. According to the 5YR, the people at 24 houses refused the city water initially, and 19 of these original intended beneficiary residences were still not on city water. Some people really hate paying water bills. I do hope they have filters.

Since the ROD went down in 1995, there have been four 5YRs written up at your expense. I participated in sampling for one of them… it must have been either preparations for the 2010 update, or possibly some sort of hanging chad from 2005. It’s a long drive from Indianapolis to Osceola, and a bit surreal to drive around a suburban neighborhood snooping for monitoring well covers. In any case, that’s the main deal these days: keep sampling and checking how fast the plume is moving.

The “exciting” new issue in soil and groundwater contamination in the last 15 years or so is soil vapor and indoor air hazards. The Galen Myers Superfund Site is finally catching up with the times. I did not read it, but there was an Addendum to the 5YR in the file documenting some soil gas sampling in the area. The idea at Galen Myers is that if you have groundwater with enough TCE in it, the TCE at the water table can and does evaporate and travel into the air spaces between soil particles. A house built over a hot enough plume can actually capture enough of that contaminant from the soil gas into its indoor air.

It keeps us environmental consultants busy, and will do so long into this new century.

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