Activity at former Products’ property for ‘fine tuning’ well-monitoring sites
Some Tecumseh residents may have noticed activity on the former Tecumseh Products east side property this week.
“We’re essentially fine-tuning the system where the monitoring wells are,” said Jason Smith, Tecumseh Products Corporate Environmental Director. Smith was in town all week, having traveled through a southern Ohio snowstorm from his Paris, Tenn., home where he also oversees environmental issues at another Tecumseh Products plant.
He explained that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had issued an administrative order in 2010, recently changed project managers. That order came about after traces of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were found in groundwater on the former manufacturing site, and part of the remediation process involved installing a Permeable Reactive Barrier (PRB) to treat contaminated groundwater and try to keep contaminants from leaving the property as it flows east toward the River Raisin. Several monitoring wells were also installed.
Smith said that in October when EPA’s Michelle Mullin transferred and Joe Kelly came on board, a meeting was set up to review the project.
“We’ve been submitting quarterly reports right along,” he said. “During that meeting, Joe shared comments about what he had reviewed concerning the site, and from those comments we put together a plan to do some definition of the geology between the lines of the existing monitoring wells.” Smith said some assumptions had been made regarding the soil, sand and clay and the depths of each at the time of the installation in 2011.
“So this week, what we’ve been doing is going between the lines of the monitoring wells checking things like how far the clay layer is down in the ground and how far the sand goes and where the groundwater actually starts,” he said. In some cases deeper wells were placed. “What we were doing didn’t come about from any new data or information. We’re just verifying what we assumed was true about the geology and fine-tuning things.”
What was found in 2009 was primarily 1,1,1-trichloroethane, trichloroethene and the latter’s breakdown products that extends generally east and north of the company property. When the contaminants were discovered during a Phase 2 study when the Consolidated Biscuit Company was considering relocating to the site, some area residents received a letter from Tecumseh Products. At that time, Tecumseh Products Director of Financial Reporting and Investor Relations, Teresa Hess, stated that levels of chemical concentrations called TCEs had leached into groundwater and could affect perimeter properties, contaminating any wells that remained there. Hess said according to standards, the concentrations were such that less than one in 1,000 people would get sick after a lifetime of exposure.
Smith said the plume is still there and being carefully monitored, but the levels of contamination are decreasing.
“The PRB is doing what it was designed to do, and the soil and gas monitoring are going well and have been showing very good improvements, along with improvements in the groundwater,” he said. “The EPA is very pleased with what we have been doing and how the site has responded.”
The timeline for a project such as this does have an endpoint, as it has progressed through investigation, mediation, monitoring and closure steps, but the process could be shortened or lengthened, according to Smith, depending on what the EPA might require.
“Right now, our timeline runs out to 2019, but the EPA will likely determine whether that’s when we can conclude the project or not,” said Smith. He is also charged with overseeing a Tecumseh Products site at a Grafton, Wisconsin plant that closed a few years ago. “In April, we will be decommissioning our on-site wells up there, but have been asked to monitor the off-site wells for two more years.”
Current property owner Dave Roberts has expressed concern that the contamination issues have prevented him from interesting future manufacturers to the site and was hoping that the situation would be cleared up soon. Smith said there are no problems with a portion of the property, however.
“In terms of marketing the property, the new addition that was Orbitech, there’s no issue with that building,” Smith said. “Somebody could go in there and set up some sort of manufacturing tomorrow and not be concerned with vapor intrusion issues or groundwater issues.”
Smith has been with the company 22 years and said Tecumseh Products has done everything possible — and above — to comply with the administrative order and always wanted to do the right thing. The company continues to respect its long history in Tecumseh.
“We’ve had several comments from others who have worked in the environmental field including the TRC group [the Ann Arbor engineering and consultant firm performing the work], and they’ve indicated we’re one of the better companies they’ve seen in the way of response. We’re getting the work done and not dragging our feet.”
Demolition at the facility, halted with a Stop Work Order on Feb. 14 due to a lack of proper permits, has not yet commenced. Tecumseh City Manager, Kevin Welch, said the city was still awaiting a plan for demolition, which the contractor said would be available soon, in order to make an evaluation prior to issuing a permit.