Major work in Nease cleanup expected in 2015

SALEM – Major work at the Nease Chemical Superfund site is expected to begin in 2015, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The 14-acre site is located on along state Route 14 two-and-a-half miles northwest of Salem on the Columbiana-Mahoning county line.

The EPA said there have been two legal agreements in place since 2006 that cover the cleanup’s “design,” one more agreement, called a “consent decree,’ that is being negotiated and will require site owner Rutgers Organics Corp. to build and maintain the actual cleanup of both portions.

The EPA said the consent decrees require the U.S. Department of Justice to act on EPA’s behalf.

“We expect this one to be ‘lodged’ in federal court in late 2014, the EPA said and at that time, DOJ will announce a public comment period in the Federal Register because all comments must be sent to DOJ.

Department officials will review and respond to the comments before “entering” the consent decree in federal court where it will be deemed “final.”

The final consent decree will be available on the EPA’s webpage and at the public libraries in Salem and Lisbon.

When the legal requirements are completed, cleanup construction can begin in late 2014 and will take several years to complete, the EPA said.

The sites’ history goes back to 1961 and 1973 when Nease Chemical produced various household cleaning compounds, fire retardants and pesticides-some of which included a chemical called mirex.

The EPA called mirex an “uncommon chemical.”

Nease Chemical pumped the waste from its manufacturing process and treated it in unlined ponds where the hazardous substances seeped into the soil and ground water.

The waste was also placed in steel drums that were buried and eventually rusted and leaked. Consequently, the soil was contaminated with mirex and the groundwater was contaminated by a group of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, the EPA said.

Surface water runoff from the waste treatment ponds then flowed into nearby feeder creek tributaries running through the site causing heavy pollution in the Middle Fork of Little Beaver Creek, east of the site.

The EPA said mirex is an odorless, white, crystalline solid used to control fire ants and as a flame retardant in plastic, rubber, paints, paper and electrical goods.

The Ohio Department of Health posted red hazard signs along the creek advising people not to eat the fish caught in the creek. Many fish were deformed.

The EPA said it was not sure how mirex affects people’s health, but it may cause cancer and can affect the skin, liver, and nervous and reproductive systems.

Exposure to mirex happens from eating food or touching soil containing the chemical.

Mirex breaks down slowly in the environment and may remain in soil for years, it said. Although mirex is not likely to travel far through the soil and into ground water, it can build up in fish or other organisms that live in contaminated bodies of water.

It can also build up in animals or people who eat contaminated fish

The EPA Superfund, created in December of 1980, is the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s most polluted hazardous waste sites.

Mirex has not been manufactured in the U.S. since 1978 when it was banned and the Nease site, one of the most polluted in the country, was placed on the Superfund list 31 years ago, in 1983.

Rutgers Organics Corp. acquired the Nease property in 1977 but never operated at the site.

All of the work, which is being done and paid for by Rutgers, is overseen by the EPA and the Ohio EPA.

Rutgers is completing the design of a $22 million cleanup using innovative nanoscale zero-valent iron technology or NZVI that involves the injection of microscopic particles of specially treated iron into the ground water.

The tiny particles chemically clean deep ground water and allows the particles to flow with the ground water while cleaning the underground aquifer as they reach into the smallest cracks in the bedrock under the site.

The company has also provided vapor treatment systems to some nearby homes to prevent potentially harmful vapors from entering the basements.

The rest of the site will be cleaned up using a combination of methods.

The areas known as Ponds 1 and 2 will be cleaned up by mixing a cement-like substance into the ground to solidify any remaining contamination and then covered with a thick plastic sheet and a layer of clean soil.

This cover will prevent rain from soaking through and further spreading the contamination. Other areas will be covered with only clean soil as detailed in the 2008 Record of Decision.

A trench will be installed on the eastern and southern sides of the site to collect shallow ground water, pump it above ground, and treat it to remove contamination.