Dayton (Oh.) Daily News (pg. A8)  [Printer-friendly version]
October 20, 2006


To Determine If Harmful Vapors Exist

By Steve Bennish, Staff Writer

DAYTON -- The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency plans to test for groundwater pollution by December to determine if there are harmful vapors that could threaten workers at a former NCR Corp. office building or residents in the nearby Rubicon Mill neighborhood.The testing, which involves using a drilling rig, is needed because groundwater monitoring wells turned up contamination from volatile organic compounds, likely solvents left over from NCR manufacturing operations decades ago, said Joseph Smindak, senior site coordinator for the OEPA.

NCR, which sold the office building this year to Cox Ohio Publishing, the parent company of the Dayton Daily News, says the readings aren't high enough to pose a hazard.

The wells are on property now owned by NCR, the Dayton Daily News and the city of Oakwood, including land Oakwood bought for sports fields. The area recently has been a hot bed of redevelopment investment from private groups and the University of Dayton.

How much of the area contains contaminated groundwater must be determined. NCR kept drums holding flammable liquids in an above-ground storage area 300 feet south of the Daily News building. Soil samples from the area show contamination. That site could be the source of the groundwater contamination, Smindak said.

Smindak said no decision has been made on where soil sample drilling will occur, but it will initially be around the Daily News building. "I know I need to do the drilling. I haven't scheduled it yet," he said. "We're in the ballpark of where the problem is."

Michael Joseph, Cox Ohio Publishing's senior vice president for business, said company officials are confident the building is safe for employees based on results from extensive testing performed by an environmental consultant.

The testing occurred when the company first discussed the building and associated land as future sites for offices. Cox Ohio representatives will meet with OEPA in the next two weeks to discuss the site, he added.

"We will cooperate in any way possible with their effort," Joseph said.

Other monitoring wells, including some on what is now UD property, have also shown contamination. The overall issue is complex, Smindak said, with many potential sources of contamination. "NCR operated a huge industrial complex," he said.

If concerns arise with new testing in the area, that might prompt further testing in the Rubicon neighborhood.

The testing that turned up the solvents was performed by contractors working for NCR over the past two years, Smindak said. Documents detailing the test results arrived at OEPA after state officials this summer requested an accounting from NCR of pollutants on its properties.

Some of the buried hazards include fly ash from an incinerator and foundry sand used in the casting of metal.

So far, possible vapors from contaminated groundwater are the most serious potential threat as the lands are redeveloped, Smindak said. "We want to get soil gas samples to be safe," he said.

The concentrations in the groundwater are in the hundreds of parts per billion for the volatile organic compounds, Smindak said. The potential contamination is "not concerning from a point of view of drinking," Smindak said, because no one drinks groundwater from the area.

Hazards could be caused by vapors from polluted groundwater that rise from the soil and become trapped inside a structure, Smindak said.

"It could be a potential vapor problem, but we have to determine that with soil samples. We plan on doing our own work," he said.

John Hourigan, spokesman for NCR, said the company does not believe there's any health threat. Fewer than five NCR employees currently work on one of the floors in the building as well as about 100 employees of a contractor, he said. NCR has nine groundwater monitoring wells.

"We have continuously monitored and conducted investigations of the area," he said. "We have confirmed there is not an immediate threat to health and the environment, given current use. Even in spots with contamination, it doesn't rise to the level of producing indoor air vapors."

Smindak said the science of indoor air pollution is relatively new, having received increasing scrutiny in the past three years.

If buildings are found to include indoor pollution, fixes could include removing the contaminated material from the soil or installing an exhaust system in the house or building like that used to remove radon gas from homes, Smindak said.

Grady Larkins, president of the Rubicon Mill Neighborhood Association, said test results presented a year ago based on testing at a monitoring well at the Patterson Homestead in their neighborhood turned up no hazards.

If the OEPA's testing turns up high readings, he added, "we want to know what is going to be done. We are concerned, of course."

UD spokeswoman Teri Rizvi said the school doesn't view the 50 acres of property it bought from NCR as hazardous, but will work to remediate groundwater.

"The concentrations of volatile organic compounds in groundwater are relatively low on the property UD purchased from NCR," she said. "They do not pose a risk, based on current use of the property."

UD is seeking an "urban setting designation" from the OEPA for its acreage, which allows groundwater clean up, but doesn't require cleaning to drinking water standards.

In March, Cox Ohio Publishing paid $5.5 million for the 1950s-era office building at 1611 S. Main St. to relocate the Daily News. Testers might seek permission to drill into the basement floor of that building, Smindak said.

Besides the Dayton Daily purchase, other deals NCR closed recently include:

In May, the 24-acre Sugar Camp training center was sold to the Oakwood Investment Group for $5 million. It's intended as a new site for Beth Abraham Synagogue and possible residential development.

On July 21, NCR sold 7.36 acres on West Schantz for $1.2 million to Versant Group LLC of Englewood.

Copyright, 2006, Cox Ohio Publishing