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Tainted properties threatening the Miami Valley  

Published: Thursday, June 28, 2018 @ 5:30 PM

Toxic waste, dangerous chemicals and industrial sludge are all threatening the Miami Valley. It all comes from local factories that once dotted the landscape in the region. Those plants produced everything from refrigerators to radioactive materials.

The Miami Valley's industrial heritage may be the basis for our current economy but the factories that once dotted the region also left behind a hazardous legacy that now threatens our drinking water.

It worries Alice Daniels who recently had a new well installed at a house she owns in Tremont City, Clark County. 

"We like the area," Daniels said, "But it's frightening." Her fear is based on the threat of contamination from an old industrial landfill nearby that took waste from factories in the 1970's.

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Waste buried in the Tremont City Barrel Fill is well documented, according to Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson.

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"Some pesticides were buried here. We have paint waste from industrial processes and we have a lot of chemical degreasers and cleaning processes," Patterson said. 

The problem is the now closed landfill sits atop the region's aquifer and any leakage from the landfill could contaminate drinking water for the entire region, stretching throughout Dayton and beyond, all the way down to the Ohio River. Patterson said there is a plan in the works to clean up the industrial landfill but it is still in negotiations between the US EPA and the potential responsible parties, including the companies that buried the waste there.

"My estimation is it's going to be another three to four years before we see people out here digging it up and getting that waste processed," Patterson said.

The community group, People For Safe Water, is pushing for the cleanup to be done right to preserve the quality of drinking water in the region. The group's director, Marilyn Welker, said for years they have been keeping up the pressure on the federal and state government to clean up the landfill and now promises they will continue to push for action. 

"We just have to stay with this," said Welker. "We cannot walk away once the cleanup starts." 

The industrial landfill in Clark County is one of a dozen sites around the region where environmental problems have been documented. Most of them, like the old Dayton Tire factory site in Dayton on Riverview Avenue have been cleaned up but are left with limited use restrictions. What once was a sprawling industrial complex, the Dayton Tire buildings are long gone, the chemical waste removed and the site is now a natural area.  

The region's biggest and once most contaminated site is the EG&G Mound plant in Miamisburg. It was originally built by the federal government to support atomic weapons research with production beginning in 1949. When it closed in 2003 it cost taxpayers $1 billion to clean up the chemical and radioactive waste on the 306 acre site. Like the Clark County industrial landfill, the biggest worry at the Mound was hazardous chemicals seeping into the aquifer. Today the property is clean and ready for redevelopment with some restrictions, according to Eric Cluxton, President of the Mound Development Corporation. 

"On this property you will never see an elementary school. You will never see a day care center. It is more commercial and industrial standards," Cluxton said.

Even the government's secret underground building at the Mound, the "T-Building", which stood for "technology building," is clean and ready for re-use. The building totals 122,000 square feet at a constant temperature of 58 degrees. Cluxton said they have a business interested in using it, but he is not ready to disclose the name of the company. A wide variety of other businesses have given it a look.

"It has ranged from wine distributors to art museums," Cluxton said.

Might the Mound really have a shot at selling or leasing its remaining buildings or other property? Commercial real estate expert Chuck Ackerman of Colliers International said the improving economy has produced a supercharged commercial real estate market, especially for logistics and distribution along the I-75 corridor. Ackerman said some once tainted properties that might have been passed over years ago may now be given a look by developers or companies looking to expand. 

"Don't ever count a building or a property or an environmental hazard out nowadays," said Ackerman.

Cluxton said the Mound is just a short drive to I-75 and the ever-expanding Austin Boulevard interchange area and they are hoping to be a part of that growth. 

"It has been a great transition from cleanup to asset reuse," Cluxton said.

Clark County, meanwhile, is still waiting for their industrial landfill to be dealt with. Alice Daniels wants the landfill is cleaned up properly to protect her well water, but it is increasing difficult to remain optimistic. What does she think of the situation now? 

"Very concerning. Maybe even a little scary because the longer it sits the worse it could get. Every election year we hear about how somebody's going to clean it up," Daniels said.