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EPA eyes repairs to underground Indiana waste barrier

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Work to rebuild a defective underground barrier designed to hold back tainted soil and groundwater at the site of a former auto parts plant should hopefully begin this year, the site's federal manager says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved construction of the clay barrier in 2006 to contain hazardous materials produced by a razed Delco Remy plant in Anderson, but subsequent testing showed the barrier leaked and groundwater was oozing through gaps in the structure.

The central Indiana site is tainted with industrial waste that accumulated over several decades during which the Delco Remy plant made car horns, turn signals, aluminum castings for alternators, distributors and starter motors.

EPA site manager Don Heller told The Herald Bulletin the agency hopes field work for the project can be completed this year following a public comment period that ends May 23.

"What we're trying to accomplish here with this remedy is eliminate a source of groundwater contamination," he said.

The building called Plant 7 was built in 1940 and was expanded numerous times over the following decades.

General Motors Corp. operated a degreaser at the plant for 10 years using chemical trichloroethene, or TCE, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen.

The plant was demolished in 1996 and in 2004 its foundation and concrete slab were removed. During an environmental assessment, officials discovered the TCE and GM agreed to implement a cleanup plan and the underground barrier.

Monitoring and the evaluation of the problematic barrier continued until June 2009, by which time ownership of the property had transferred to the Anderson Redevelopment Commission for commercial or industrial reuse.

The city of Anderson is responsible for repairing the environmental problem, which will involve rebuilding the containment barrier and injecting chemical agents into the ground to break down the TCE.

EPA estimates say that the project's cost will be $4.2 million and it will be financed through a special trust fund created during GM's bankruptcy.

Although a plume of TCE has extended offsite beneath a commercial and residential area, EPA officials said it is not at levels that would pose a threat to human health and the environment.

"I think everybody would like to see this cleaned up and cleaned up properly," said Ann Marie Bauer, attorney for the Redevelopment Commission.

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