“I get the strong impression, based on what I've heard, that maybe we haven't always given our best efforts on these things in the past. And despite our best efforts, maybe it hasn't been enough. We are trying to turn that around,"said Ed Galbraith, Director of MDNR's Division of Environmental Quality.
Over the last half year, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has attempted to reconnect and reassure Camdenton citizens, many of whom felt spurned by the agency’s responses and handling of its’ last two public meetings in 2015 and 2016.
Last Thursday nearly 50 citizens, including several current and former government officials, gathered at The Exchange venue in Camdenton for a public presentation and question and answer session hosted by representatives from MDNR and the Department of Health and Senior Services regarding the ongoing investigations and remedial efforts related to the trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination.
The meeting was a culmination of efforts by citizens and former employees of Dawson Metals, and later Hamilton Sundstrand and Modine Manufacturing, who shared previously undisclosed information regarding alleged dumping sites that sparked two new Superfund investigations within city limits. The degreasing chemical was used to clean metal parts during manufacturing operations from 1967 to 1990, according to records.
Starting prior to this summer, MDNR began uploading and publishing thousands of pages of documents, graphics and photographs including previous investigations, analyses, and reports dating back to the late 1960’s to present day regarding Camdenton’s former Mulberry Well and former Hulett Lagoon, and the manufacturing facility at 221 Sunset Drive, in an attempt to provide more transparency into the department’s efforts that began in the 1990s.
Ed Galbraith, Director of MDNR’s Division of Environmental Quality, said this meeting and those documents were the beginning steps of a new level of renewed commitment to the community, admitting that past efforts had fallen short.
“We’re here because you spoke. You would like more information — more timely, transparent information from us. You’d like to be heard and listened to and for us to be available to take in any concerns you may have. We feel like people want more of a plan of action from us — more commitment, more scope and scheduling on how we’re going to more forward on this,” Galbraith said.
“I get the strong impression, based on what I’ve heard, that maybe we haven’t always given our best efforts on these things in the past. And despite our best efforts, maybe it hasn’t been enough. We are trying to turn that around.”
Valerie Wilder, of MDNR’s Superfund Division, explained the current status and future actions planned for the multiple contamination sites around the city. In regards to the groundwater, soil gas, and sewer line investigation of the Sunset Drive facility and surrounding homes, a total of 18 residences have so far completed MDNR’s quarterly sampling program. Two homes in the area have had mitigation systems installed while four homes remain in the four-quarter monitoring program that began in 2015.
In May of 2017, investigators used ground penetrating radar to survey the entire building while attempting to locate a previously undetected major source of TCE contamination that was announced in 2016. Data captured by closed circuit television cameras that explored piping discovered 12-feet below ground is currently being analyzed.
Phase two for the work plan will involve further investigation underneath the building that is scheduled to begin in early 2018, according to MDNR. The state agency has regularly monitored Camdenton’s three primary municipal water wells, along with the closed down Mulberry Well, with none of the current wells being used showing detections of TCE.
A final remedy for the Mulberry Well is tentatively scheduled for completion in 2019, according to MDNR officials. MDNR recently received a supplemental investigation report by Golder Associates, who were contracted on behalf of the City of Camdenton, which confirmed a 1999 investigation detailing the extent of the underground TCE plume and the effectiveness of the current pumping and air-stripping system used to treat the well supply for safe discharge into the environment.
MDNR is currently reviewing the report, and if accepted, will prepare a proposed final plan for the Mulberry Well and Hulett Lagoon sites. The process will involve a 30-day public comment period, a public meeting and a decision of final remedy, the officials said.
The two new Superfund investigations are related to a temporary operations facility located on US-54 used from 1972-1973 that currently houses a fishing tackle supply business and a section of the Camdenton Memorial Lake Regional Airport where sludge from the dried up Hulett Lagoon was moved over two decades ago.
Investigators spoke to three former employees who corroborated haphazard dumping out of the back of the temporary facility, as well as the main facility. MDNR tested the sludge field back in 1999 at which time TCE was not detected, but will retest several private wells around the area next month for the volatile organic compound and several heavy metal elements.
There are currently uncorroborated reports of four other dump sites that have not been confirmed by investigators, though officials did ask attendees for any other information possibly unknown to the department. In fact, officials admitted that they had never heard of the July 1972 fire at the Sunset facility which caused the temporarily move until this year when former employees contacted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A representative with MDHSS said that the department has indeed analyzed Camden County cancer rates and could request to analyze that data for the Camdenton zip code, a question of concern for several in attendance.
TCE exposure has been linked to kidney, liver and non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancers, but according to the official, Camden County showed lower than state rate averages for those types. Auto-immune diseases such as MS and Lupus are not reported to the department, so that data is unavailable, the representative said.
MDNR also plans to help citizens form an advisory team to further communications and the exchange of information on a more regular basis. Attendees were asked to fill out interest forms and will have the opportunity to be one of five to seven selected by MDNR to serve as core members. Those selected for core membership will then choose up to twenty additional regular members and coordinate with interested parties.
Several citizens took the opportunity to address a panel of experts assembled by MDNR to answer questions and share additional concerns about the sites and potential health concerns.
Camden County Presiding Commission Greg Hasty requested the department take a deeper look at census data for Camdenton residents and whether or not any disease trends could be drawn from a deeper analyzation of data.
“A lot of people in the community have had a bad gut feeling and they all know people,” he said. “I would like to see those statistics.”
Camden County resident Scott Martin said he’d been living in Camdenton since 1950 and owned a farm across the road from the airport. Martin alleged the Mulberry Well, turned off in 1999, but turned back on again several times in later months when other municipal wells had mechanical issues, was still operational in 2003. He also asked about concerns related to cadmium, lead and cyanide, which MDNR said had been monitored but never rose to actionable levels.
“I can give you employees names. That well was turned on and still operational in 2003,” he said.
Officials said they would look into the 2003 allegation and requested further information from Martin. A former 30-year employee, Jim Gohagan, wondered if anybody would be held legally liable for the exposure faced by workers at the plant.
“Nobody can dispute it was used illegally, handled in an unsafe manner. An employee is not going to go to OSHA and lose their job the next day,” he said. “How many gallons were illegally dumped? They were exposing their employees daily.”
Perhaps the most poignant piece of testimony came from former Camdenton aldermen Steve Eden who served two terms on the board in the 1990s and again recently up until 2016. Eden said he got the personal impression that in the 1990s the state agency wasn’t really interested in the contamination or cleanup and more recently in his last term felt like “the only thing DNR was doing was holding a hammer over our head.”
“My first wife died of cancer — I live close to Modine — my first daughter died of cancer. My neighbor died of cancer. One of my friend’s mother who lived in the area died of cancer. I really hope y’all put the effort into this and possibly go outside the scope of what science tells you occurs today,” he said.