Continental Steel in operation. (Photo from Kokomo Tribune.)

Continental Steel was a sprawling industrial facility situated along Wildcat Creek at its junction with Kokomo Creek on Markland Avenue on the west side of Kokomo. At least in its later stages of operation (under various names, and as part of various conglomerates, it ran for the vast bulk of the 20th century) it used electric furnaces to melt scrap steel and make wire, fence and nails…products where the metal quality need not be that high.

When the plant closed in 1986, it left behind a huge and varied collection of contaminated sites. The US EPA divided it into a number of “OUs” (operating units) that had to be dealt with in very different ways:

  • The Main Plant, where nearly all the actual steelmaking and processing took place.
  • The “evaporation” lagoons, where concentrated, contaminated sulfuric acid from the pickling process did NOT evaporate but sank into the ground.
  • Markland Quarry, an old hole in the ground where they threw anything they didn’t want to run through the furnaces, including drums and drums of dirty TCE solvent as well as at least one piece of WWII ordinance.
  • The “Slag Processing Area,” another old quarry where the slag, or rocky froth left over from steelmaking, was dumped and allowed to erode into the creek.
  • Wildcat Creek and Kokomo Creek themselves, where the sediment was impregnated with toxic metals, solvent, hydrocarbons, and PCBs. There were lots of PCBs at the site within transformers used to manage electricity to melt steel and accomplish other tasks.
  • The limestone aquifer beneath the site, where the solvent wound up after being dumped in Markland Quarry or elsewhere.
The six OUs at Continental Steel, from the third Five Year Report in 2012.

Continental Steel made it onto the NPL and became a Superfund site in 1989. There were no, or almost no, assets left over from the company after it was liquidated; in fact, its workers’ pensions disappeared in the bankruptcy as well. The American taxpayer has footed the bill for almost all the prodigious amount of work done at the site over the years.

The buildings at the Main Plant were demolished in 1999-2000. When I joined IDEM in 2006, work was set to begin on another intense phase of work. The first task was covering the Main Plant area with a cover of soil to at least provide some kind of buffer between the residual contamination and people at the surface. Markland Quarry was dug out, with a large amount of contaminated soil and junk removed so it would stop releasing contaminants to the aquifer. The creeks were dredged, which was a massive undertaking. As I recall a low-head dam in Wildcat Creek (which is really a medium-sized river) by the Kokomo wastewater treatment plant was removed and found to have drums of waste oil inside it to provide bulk and a convenient disposal location.

This site was insane. I’ll give you a more detailed example in the next post.

After I left in 2009, the site apparently got a shot in the arm from some Obama stimulus money, and a lot of further work has been done. It’s mostly usable now, and after a lot of agonzing about how (and whether) to reuse the site, in recent years, a solar array has been installed.

That said, the contamination in the aquifer can’t be removed by any practical means. Just like Galen Myers, it’s going to have to be allowed to migrate out, but unlike Galen Myers, we’re going to have to pump it out for a very long time. Kokomo is a place where the bedrock is unusually close to the surface (for northern Indiana) and quarries downstream from the plant have to pump out water to keep operating. After they finish their practical lifetime, EPA and/or IDEM are going to keep pumping for a very long time… at least, that was the plan when I left.

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