Asbestos cleanup at the former Johnson Controls site on the city’s east site could begin as soon as next week, representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday during a community presentation at Shanklin Park’s Schrock Pavilion.
News of the contamination was first revealed back in mid-February with an announcement by Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman that asbestos — a known carcinogen — had been found on the property at 1302 East Monroe St. by a private company hired to perform an inspection related to federal lawsuits.
Two groups of Goshen residents have sued Johnson Controls Inc. and the company that later bought the property, TOCON Holdings Inc., due to groundwater contamination. It was TOCON that had the building demolished, according to Stutsman.
Upon learning of the asbestos contamination, Stutsman contacted the EPA in an attempt to get the property stabilized. Subsequent testing by the EPA confirmed the asbestos contamination, leading to emergency measures to secure the site and prevent asbestos exposure. Such measures included erecting a fence around the entire property to keep out trespassers and covering the contaminated debris piles with tarps to limit any potential migration of the asbestos to surrounding areas until actual cleanup of the site could begin.
U.S. EPA Region 5 representatives Charles Rodriguez and Andrew Maguire began the forum by providing attendees with a brief history of the site and the contamination’s discovery before moving on to discuss the agency’s cleanup plans for the site.
“So the culmination of all this is why we’re here now,” Maguire said. “We’ve got the funds and the contractor to come out here and do the cleanup.”
Maguire noted that excavators have already arrived at the site and the plan is for removal of contaminated material to begin early next week.
“I’d love to be done by the end of September,” Maguire said of the tentative cleanup timeline. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. Next week is going to be a big tell for us on how long it’s going to take.”
Maguire said he anticipates it will take the removal of about 7,000 tons of material from the site in order to fully rid the site of asbestos. That material must then be transported to the landfill for disposal, which equates to about a 2 1/2 hour round trip per run.
“A truck can take 20 to 25 tons a load, depending on the materials,” he said. “That’s a lot of trucks. If you can do 20 runs a day, on a good day, we’re looking good. If you make 10 runs a day, that changes things.”
As for any other potential contaminants at the site, Maguire noted that the EPA’s current efforts are focused only on asbestos contamination, while the handling of any additional contaminants currently fall under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
“All I can say is, when I’m done, there will not be a threat of asbestos exposure from that site,” he said.
Throughout the asbestos removal process, the site contractor will be taking a number of steps to protect the health and safety of nearby residents and workers during the cleanup process, Maguire said.
Access to the work site will be limited by fences and entry gates with trucks hauling contaminated material restricted to using the Monroe Street entrance only. Maguire cautioned attendees that it will not be unusual during the cleanup process to see workers wearing protective suits and gear designed to protect against any potential asbestos exposure. Extensive use of air monitoring equipment will also be used, he said, noting that the equipment can provide sampling results in real time, allowing workers to stop immediately and assess the situation should any asbestos contamination be detected.
“Also while we’re working, to minimize the aerosolization of this dust or asbestos fibers, we’re going to use a lot of water,” Maguire said. “The city has gotten us access to one of the fire hydrants along the road, and we will be hosing down all the piles while working to minimize the dust. That’s for the safety of the workers and for any potential offsite migration of the fibers.”
Asked whether the use of water in such a way could lead to asbestos groundwater contamination, Maguire reponded that asbestos fibers are not able to move through soil, even in strong rain events. He also noted that asbestos is typically not a health concern unless it is breathed into the lungs.
“Asbestos is not really a hazard for groundwater,” Maguire said. “The main hazard wouldn’t be drinking it. It would be breathing it in. So one of the ways we limit migration is by watering it down.”
Each truckload of material will be wrapped in a protective covering before it exits the site in order to ensure no contaminated material escapes the truck during transport, Maguire said. Once arriving at the landfill, the contaminated material will be deposited into a designated “cell” which will then be covered at the end of the day in order to prevent the escape of contaminants from the disposal site.
Stutsman said the cleanup will cost an estimated $2 million to be paid for by the EPA. Agency officials will then seek repayment of some or all of that figure from TOCON Holdings.
“It’s definitely one of those processes that has taken longer than we would have hoped,” Stutsman said. “But at the same time, finding $2 million and doing all that, it takes time, and I’m just glad that we’re going to get it taken care of this year yet.”
On the ball
Debbie Hostetler, whose home on Monroe Street is within eyesight of the former Johnson Controls property, said she was pleased with what she heard from the EPA Wednesday when it comes to the agency’s efforts to contain the contamination and get the site clean in a timely fashion.
“I came out today because I have concerns about just seeing that the stuff gets cleaned up and that it doesn’t get airborne, and that it’s going to be cleaned up correctly, and handled the way it needs to be handled so that we don’t have to worry about breathing the air when we’re outside or have the grandkids outside, etc.,” Hostetler said. “So I really like what I heard today. I think they’re kind of on the ball in that they’re going to stop if they monitor anything out of the ordinary. I like that, that they’re not just going to try and get it done as fast as possible and not care about the neighbors.”
Karen Lee, whose office at The Award Factory, 1703 E. Monroe St., is located just down the street from the site, agreed.
“I’m feeling better that they’re going to have air quality monitors to know when to stop and what to do so that when they start disturbing it things don’t get out of hand,” Lee said. “That was one of my questions, is it just going to be up in the air? Is it going to be sucked in through our air conditioning? Those were the questions I had, and I think they were answered satisfactorily, so I’m feeling better about it.”
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