FRANKLIN, Ind. -- Neighbors living south of the former Franklin Power Corp., Inc. Amphenol Corp. plant want to know where things stand in the ongoing vapor intrusion investigation.
This investigation is based on data showing the migration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the site to nearby neighborhoods by way of ground water and sewers.
The purpose of the investigation is to understand whether this contamination has reached the indoor air of the nearby homes and poses a health risk to the people living there. The EPA has overseen the cleanup of the site for years.
Wednesday evening, members of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and Franklin leadership stood in front of the community at a public meeting and promised more transparency, understanding and the removal of the old sewer line running south of the former Amphenol Corp. site down Forsythe Street.
"I think that's an obvious step that should be done," said Stacie Olson, co-founder of If It Was Your Child. "I think that will help to mitigate the problem and a great first step."
One woman who lives on Forsythe Street said she moved into her home with her granddaughter in 2011. She said she did not realize her home was in an area of concern south of Amphenol. She asked about the impacts of long-term exposure of the vapors.
The EPA told the crowd they feel confident they know where the plume from the former Amphenol site went or did not go. Kari Rhinehart, co-founder of If It Was Your Child, said this is one part of a bigger problem in the area.
"I think that's just one of the plumes," Rhinehart said. "I think there's a strong chance there's more than one. So, we refer to this as the Amphenol plume."
A firm hired by the city, Enviroforensics, found contamination along a sewer line south of the former Amphenol site on Forsythe Street. The EPA required Amphenol to investigate any potential vapor intrusion in the neighborhood south of the site. It looked at the outdoor air, groundwater, soil gas, the sewer bedding gas, sewer VOC gas and the indoor air of homes.
The EPA delivered the news during the meeting that the old sewer line on Forsythe Street will be removed beginning in either August or September; the work will take about six months. Work will also be done on Hamilton Avenue.
"That is from information that we were given from IWM Consulting Group," said Trent Newport with CrossRoads Engineers.
IWM is Amphenol's consultant in this investigation. The crews will remove both the old sewer and any contaminated soil from the area.
"That material that we're going to be taking out will be put in roll off boxes," Newport said. "We will replace with a new sewer in the same location as the old."
The engineers said the new sewer will be safer as the PVC pipe seals, unlike the old clay sewer lines.
While crews working with the excavation will be required to go through health and safety checks, they will also monitor the air while they work. The EPA said if the vapors start spreading around the construction site, work will come to a halt.
"They'll be doing testing on the side wall, so we're telling our contractor, 'Remove this much,'" Newport explained. "But, then we're going to test the side walls, see where we're at. IWM will have a lab onsite that will be able to test that in real time, be able to tell us if we need to take out more."
Additionally, the crews will pump all water out of the trenches when they dig for the sewer into appropriate safety tanks.
"The groundwater will go into frack tanks to be tested and hauled off," Newport assured.
Crews will also eventually offer more work to the homes near the sewer line.
"We are going to be going house to house, getting permission from property owners to redo their laterals from the sewer lane all the way back to as close to the house as we can get," Newport said.
The EPA identified 42 homes for indoor air testing. Of those, 30 households allowed the EPA to come in and test while 15 had remediation work done.
The EPA says they found elevated levels in five homes, elevated levels from sewer gas in two, elevated levels from soil gas in one home, elevated levels of soil and sewer gas in two and six homes with elevated levels of sub-slab or outdoor soil gas.
For sewer lines, the EPA reported nine homes needed plumbing system repairs to prevent the hazardous vapors from coming in. They repaired all of them.
Much of the concern from residents to the EPA is the way the agency has handled its risk communication. They said often they feel like the EPA talks at them instead of to them.
Cathy Stepp, EPA R5 Regional Administrator, made a promise to the people who live there that they are being heard and change is on its way.
"There were some concerns about communication effectiveness on the part of our agency, and our staff," Stepp said. "I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to first of all give the message to the public that I'm paying attention to this, that we're actively managing the site and the work that's going on in the ground."
Rhinehart, Olson and Stepp all said they are interested in starting a community engagement group. It is merely in the planning phase now.
"So people are more involved, people are more aware so that there's actually transparency and honesty and respect so people aren't as scared," Olson said.
Webb and Needham Elemetary concerns
Back in March, Needham and Webb Elementary Schools briefly closed for testing of the air and sub slab for any concerning chemicals. After seeing the results, school leaders said there was strong evidence the air in the schools was safe.
In August, they took ambient air, soil gas and sub-slab vapor samples. The company said while the results indicated the presence of TCE and PCE in the subsurface of the properties, the results were below screening criteria and there was no threat of an indoor air problem at the time.
The school district had follow up testing done in early March. Sub-slab vapor samples were taken and the results were released last week. At Needham Elementary, 2 out of 10 samples tested above that at 96.2 and 100 micrograms per cubic meter. At Webb Elementary 3 out of 7 samples tested above the screening level at 225, 242 and 849 micrograms per cubic meter.
The EPA brought up the elementary schools during the public meeting Wednesday.
"This is evidence we collected so we're confident that the schools are not being affected by the sewer system from Amphenol," said Carolyn Bury, EPA project manager.