Can environmental hazards ever be totally removed? Sometimes it seems not, as government entities move at glacial paces to determine what to do and how to do it while encountering a seemingly endless battery of legal and bureaucratic obstacles.
At the old General Motors Plant 7 in Anderson, efforts to contain a carcinogenic degreasing chemical, trichloroethene (TCE), have been ongoing for years. The plant was demolished in 1996 and the foundation removed eight years later. An environmental assessment revealed the presence of TCE, and GM implemented a plan to clean up the site.
In 2006, construction of an underground clay barrier to keep TCE from getting into ground water was approved. But later testing showed that the barrier was leaking. Still, the problem exists, and the cleanup — consisting of a new containment barrier and the use of other chemicals to neutralize the TCE — has an estimated price tag of $4.2 million.
To make matters worse, TCE has been detected in nearby Pittsford Ditch and offsite in groundwater beneath a commercial and residential area of Anderson. EPA officials say the level of TCE detected offsite is below levels that would endanger people and the environment.
The city of Anderson is now responsible for addressing the environmental threat. If there’s a bright side to this, it’s that the $4.2 million won’t come from local taxpayers, but from a trust fund that sprang from GM’s bankruptcy.
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency is taking public comments on its proposed cleanup of the site. The comment period lasts through May 23. After that, EPA officials hope to begin building the new containment barrier this year.
While it’s understandable that environmental issues are sensitive and solutions to them are often expensive and difficult to execute, it would seem that the entities involved have dragged their feet in addressing the problems at Plant 7. Meanwhile, residents of the area have every right to be nervous about potential environmental impacts. Exposure to high levels of TCE is associated with a variety of health problems, including cancer and dysfunction of the central nervous system.
Another looming consideration is the Mounds Lake Reservoir project, which is building momentum in the community. Old Plant 7 is not far from where the lake would be located.
Local officials should do everything they can to push the EPA toward a speedy solution that will be a long-term answer to the problem of groundwater contamination coming from the former Plant 7 site.