An increase in contaminants in test wells at the old RB&W site at 800 Mogadore Road is fueling concerns that a pollution containment system on the property has failed.
Officials familiar with the site and its contaminants say that, despite the potential failure, there is little immediate danger to the nearby Cuyahoga River.
In 2005, then-property owner Lamson and Sessions Co. paid a Pittsburgh contractor to build an underground wall of clay 20 feet deep in spots to seal off several oil lagoons that once covered a large portion of the southern end of the site. The wall — which may be the cause of the contaminant increase — was capped with a plastic liner and clean fill dirt.
The open-air pits, constructed between 1957 and 1963, were filled with oil used in the adjacent plant for metal cutting and other manufacturing processes. Workers at the plant skimmed off salvageable oil that could be reused and burned the rest in the plant. The pits were used for oil management until about 1971, when they were filled in.
The clay "slurry wall" and cap were meant to be an "interim measure" under the Ohio EPA Voluntary Action Program to prevent migration of contaminants from the lagoon area. Recent tests show the level of contaminants in groundwater just west of the slurry wall have increased slightly since July 2008, according to the EPA.
Gunars Zikmanis, a site coordinator for the Ohio EPA Division of Emergency and Remedial Response, has been conducting groundwater tests since the wall was installed in late 2005. Zikmanis said the contaminant levels are not dangerous enough to warrant immediate action at the site, but he said the current property owner, Thomas Betts Corp. of Memphis, Tenn., is investigating the cause of the increase.
"There is some question on the slurry wall currently, which they are looking into," Zikmanis said. "At this point, they are investigating if there is a breach in the wall. And if there is a breach, it will be repaired."
The EPA considers the heavy metals once tested for at the site — such as chromium, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and cyanide — no longer of concern. The contaminants currently tested for, and increasingly present in groundwater on the site, are known as "COCs," or chlorinated organic compounds — soils laced with chlorinated chemicals.
The EPA currently tests for dichloroethene, trichloroethene and vinyl chloride. Dichloroethene is a flammable, colorless liquid that can cause nausea or drowsiness in people exposed, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Effects of long-term exposure to small amounts are not known, according to the ODH.
However, exposure to large amounts of trichloroethene can affect the central nervous system and has been shown to damage the liver and kidneys in animals, according to several state health agencies. Current levels at the RB&W site are not high enough to cause alarm.
Matt Knecht, president of HzW Environmental Consultants, is overseeing the current cleanup of the site and has been managing it since 1997. Knecht said there is no indication the current groundwater contamination levels pose a threat to the neighboring Cuyahoga River, which is a few hundred yards west of the property.
"We are concerned about the increasing concentrations," Knecht said. "We have no reason to believe there's been any impact to the Cuyahoga River, but that is certainly something we want to address, and address as proactively as possible in terms of getting an evaluation done of the slurry wall itself."
Knecht said the slurry wall was built of clay that has the same permeability as the native clay on the property. The wall extends down to the existing clay base beneath the soil. Over top of the slurry wall is a synthetic plastic liner that was capped with about 15 feet of cleaned fill soil, on top of which is grass.
"The way to think about it in three dimensions is a bathtub with clay all around it, and then we put a lid on top of the bathtub to prevent water from getting in and flowing out," he said.
HzW's latest report, filed Dec. 23, 2010, suggests the increases in groundwater contaminants in the past two years "are indicative of some failure in the construction or design of the slurry wall and cap system."
"We have no reason to believe the Cuyahoga River was impacted by this site, today," Knecht said. "But we are very, very concerned because we know the river is the drinking water source for the city of Akron."
Knecht said HzW is working with the contractor that installed the slurry wall, Geo-con Environmental Barrier Co., to inspect the slurry wall and determine how to address the increase in groundwater contaminants.
"We want to move as quick as possible to fix the situation," he said.