Idle Warehouse Stands as Toxics Symbol
Across a barbed-wire fence, a vacant warehouse stands idle, a rusting and still poisonous reminder of an industrial crime committed nearly a decade ago.
Once among the nation’s largest processing sites for PCBs, the warehouse operated by the Martha C. Rose Chemical Co. became a toxic nightmare for the 2,000 residents of Holden.
Five company officials pleaded guilty to concealing the fact that PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were being improperly stored there. And leaks of the cancer-causing chemical left more than 20 million pounds of contaminated soil, concrete and other material that had to be removed from the 12-acre site.
The cost so far: more than $15 million. And Environmental Protection Agency officials say it may take another $13 million and two more years to finish the job.
The empty warehouse, one of about 1,200 EPA “Superfund” sites nationwide, illustrates the high costs and slow pace of removing industrial toxic waste.
Holden officials and members of a cleanup committee criticize the EPA for delays and stringent cleanup standards they say are too costly and time-consuming.
“It’s been pretty near eight, nine years since this thing started,” Mayor Francis Brillhart said. “We just want to clean it all up the cheapest and quickest way we can.”
But the EPA says it moved as fast as it could and needed time to respond to public concerns.
“A lot of work is done to determine what the actual risk was and to come up with alternatives to address the risks,” said EPA project manager Steven Kinser. “All sites are somewhat different. You can’t just go to a manual.”
The debate at Holden, a farming community about 40 miles southeast of Kansas City, focuses on which methods to use and how much to spend to make the land clean and safe.
A committee of 16 companies that sent most of the PCB-laden materials to the site--and which has paid for the cleanup--contends that the EPA’s preferred option to require contaminated concrete and soil to be incinerated before being disposed of in a landfill is too expensive.
For about half the cost, the group says, the material could be sent directly to a landfill, skipping the incineration.
“The issue is whether a $6-million or $13-million cleanup is sufficient,” said Joe Kwasnik, a committee member representing the New England Power Service Co. “Both are equally protective of the environment and human health.”
Both options would reduce the cancer risk from a lifetime exposure at the site to one in a million, according to an EPA review.
But the EPA’s Kinser says the Superfund philosophy requires highly contaminated material to be treated and eliminated rather than stored.