Known as TCE, this chemical is a common industrial solvent, a known toxin and carcinogen.

Understandable fears over recent activity at the defunct manufacturing plant on Sunset Drive in Camdenton appear to be part of regular testing at the federal Superfund site.

Outside of the long-term problems from the trichloroethene contamination at the former Modine/Dawson/Sundstrand facility, there was no immediate problems related to a semi truck visiting the site earlier this week. The issue of a smell in the air around the same time is less clear.

Known as TCE, this chemical is a common industrial solvent, a known toxin and carcinogen. For several years, the plant has been closed and is off-limits without protective gear due to the contamination.

“People are concerned, and rightfully so, but the thing is, all of this is a plan in motion for a long time,” said Don Barrett, the chairman of a local citizens committee advising the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on resident concerns around the site.

While the plans for soil testing under the building have been long known, continued from previous such testing in June, the semi was a surprise. Such a large tanker to remove what is called “investigation derived waste” raised concern and fears of some coverup or conspiracy at the site.

“There’s been so much misconception and being ignored [in the past], people have a right to be suspicious. I don’t blame them. They’re living right there with it,” said Barrett. He lost his wife in 2008, believed to be from illness related to TCE exposure.

In touch with Modine staff, one of the responsible parties under the Superfund agreement and the funding source for testing, Barrett explains the semi just happened to be a truck that the business had available in the vicinity that could do the job, even though it was far larger than what was needed.

Contractors drilled under the building in June to conduct soil sampling for TCE. According to DNR Environmental Engineer Christine Kump-Mitchell, overseeing the testing, unsurprisingly showed some soil contamination under portions of the building, primarily TCE, in locations along sewer lines but also areas where the degreasers operated over the years.

The work was not finished in June after the contractors struck bedrock. It was decided though to continue testing below the bedrock, adjusting testing vicinities based on previous results.

But the early summer testing created soil and water byproduct waste that has to be disposed of properly. Kump-Mitchell explains that the soil and water waste are stored separately and tested to determine the appropriate place for disposal. The waste was left at the facility. When the contractor returned October 1 to continue testing, arrangements were made then to remove the waste from the early summer testing.

Contractors will be at the site through Wednesday or Thursday of next week. On a tight schedule, workers are at the site until around 6 to 6:30 p.m. every day during this time frame, said Kump-Mitchell. They have been leaving a few vehicles at the site overnight and commuting back and forth from a hotel together. There is also a trailer they leave there with drums they are using in the process.

If there is any activity at the site after 7 p.m., Kump-Mitchell encouraged residents to call the police as no one should be in the manufacturing plant at night.

Some residents in the neighborhood had also reported a burning smell and then a sweet smell, similar to odors from the days when TCE was in common large-scale use nearby.

Kump-Mitchell said she wasn’t sure what the smell was from as there should not have been any TCE vapors. Tools utilized to detect TCE vapors coming from the bore holes did not show any levels of concern from the drilling. The drilling rig does have a scrubber on it that cleans exhaust as it comes out of the right so the contractors were not even venting the building for diesel fumes. 

The odor could have been something else, she said, but it is hard to say for sure now.

She asked residents to report odors as they are occurring so the department can investigate. Contact DNR’s Environmental Services Program with environmental concerns at 1-800-361-4827. 

An environmental concern is a situation that you believe threatens the environment, such as a trash dump or discarded waste tires in a stream, according to the DNR website. An environmental emergency, on the other hand, poses an immediate threat to the public health or the well-being of the environment. 

If you are involved in or witness an environmental emergency, please call the Missouri Department of Natural Resources at 573-634-2436. According to DNR’s website, duty officers monitor the department's spill line 24/7 on a rotating basis. During normal business hours, duty officers staff the incident command center at the Environmental Services Program in Jefferson City, and after business hours, they answer the spill line from home. Duty officers dispatch on-scene coordinators when environmental emergencies occur. All state on-scene coordinators are certified hazardous material technicians.

Barrett thought the odor may have been from old dust in the buildings, but didn’t believe it was harmful.

“My personal opinion is the building is the source of the problem. We’re testing to make everybody happy … We’ve just got to get it cleaned up,” he said. 

Barrett was hopeful that the cleanup would occur sooner rather than later and definitely in less than five years.

Background

Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The manufacturing facility produced aluminum and copper heat transfer units between 1967 and 2012 under a succession of owners/operators including Dawson Metal Products, Sundstrand Tubular Products, Inc. (now UTC), and Modine Heat Transfer Inc. (Modine). During operation of the facility, Dawson and Sundstrand used TCE as a degreasing agent. Modine discontinued the use of TCE at the facility in 1990. Releases of TCE to the environment at the Sunset Drive facility, a nearby temporary facility, and a wastewater lagoon in Camdenton have prompted a number of investigation and cleanup activities designed to protect human health and the environment. TCE was detected in the Mulberry Well, one of Camdenton’s public drinking water wells, and the city took the well offline in 1999.The source(s) of TCE contamination to the well has not been definitively determined, but may include releases from the Sunset Drive facility and City Lagoon #3.