EPA updates community on contamination investigation

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FRANKLIN, Ind. — The U.S. EPA revealed new details about its investigation into contamination at the former Amphenol site and the area nearby during a public information session Wednesday. It says it found evidence that material migrated into a nearby neighborhood.

The EPA has overseen cleanup of the former Amphenol site for decades. The agency previously determined a former owner released volatile organic compounds into the environment, including on-site sewers, transporting the contamination outside the property before 1983. In the 1990’s, the EPA required Amphenol to operate clean-up measures, which the EPA has overseen since.

“I think we were aware of what happened on the site, and if there was a major source on the site, I think we did take care of that when we were out there. Like I said I think what we weren’t aware of was that some of that contamination that was put into the sewers at the facility itself was not captured, it had actually gone beyond what the people back in the ’90s thought the extent of the contamination was. So now we’re making sure that this time we do know exactly where the contaminants went and we’re going to do everything we need to do in order to make sure that it’s taken care of this time around,” Joe Cisneros, the chief of the correction action program for Region 5 of the U.S. EPA, said.

A firm hired by the city, Enviroforensics, found contamination along a sewer line south of the former Amphenol site on Forsythe St. Since then, the EPA has required Amphenol to investigate any potential vapor intrusion in the neighborhood south of the site. It’s looking at the outdoor air, groundwater, soil gas, the sewer bedding gas, sewer VOC gas and the indoor air of homes.

“I am committed to the Franklin community and to finding a resolution to the concerns of our residents. I was pleased to announce tonight Amphenol’s commitment to remove any contaminated soil and to replace the city sewer near its old site. We look forward to that work getting started, and I will continue to see this process through until the end.” Mayor Steve Barnett said.

The EPA said it has found evidence material migrated into the neighborhood, potentially through the sewer system.

“It is not at levels that have required us to pull in anyone to do immediate clean up, but there are levels of concern in a number of areas,” Cisneros said.

The EPA said there were 37 homes on its priority list it wants to sample, but not everyone is granting them access. It says it has found chemical gases and material in the sub slabs under some homes.

“We’re finding no evidence of any kind of vapors that would pose a risk to anyone’s health in the homes themselves,” Cisneros said.

In those homes, though, vapor mitigation systems were installed and cracks have been sealed to ensure vapors can’t come into the homes.

“It’s  more than data, it’s people” one community member told panelists at the information session.

Community members asked panelists about testing beyond the neighborhood south of the site and the timeline of the work.

“I think we feel positive about the direction it’s moving; we’d like to have more contact with EPA directly as a community,” Kari Rhinehart, a co-founder of If It Was Your Child, said.

“It’s a problem and it shouldn’t be there and it should be priority one to clean up, but our kids are our catalysts. They drive us 100 percent,” Stacie Davidson, another co-founder of It It Was Your Child, said.

Parents with the group, If It Was Your Child, have previously raised concerns about the number of pediatric cancer cases in the area and any potential contamination in the areas after their own children’s battles with the disease.

The Indiana State Department of Health recently released updated pediatric cancer rates for Johnson County from the state cancer registry. From 2009-2016 it said there were 75 cases in children 0-19 years old, which is a rate of 23 per 100,000 children. ISDH said the National Cancer Institute’s most recent data from 2011-2015 showed the county’s pediatric cancer rate at 21.7 and the state’s rate at 17.6. The national rate was 17.9. It said the data shows Johnson County’s rate has been stable. No cancer cluster has been identified there. ISDH has never identified a cancer cluster of any type in Indiana.

The National Center for Environmental Health reviewed ISDH’s investigation into pediatric cancer cases. In a letter to ISDH this month, it stated the CDC concurred with the methods and conclusions described in ISDH’s report.

The letter states:

“CDC is aware that additional investigations of environmental contamination have been initiated in Johnson County since the publication of the ISDH report in 2017. CDC recommends that if those investigations find evidence of community exposure to chemical contaminants that are potential risk factors for pediatric cancer, that ISDH compare incidence data (calculate SIRs) for those specific pediatric cancer types.”

ISDH stated,  “While the CDC’s review confirms ISDH’s findings, we understand it is no consolation to the families in Johnson County who have been impacted by cancer. ISDH remains committed to evaluating pediatric cancer cases in Johnson County and will update its findings as new information and research into the causes of cancer become available.”

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