Pollution worse than expected

August 21, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY — Pollution from a former dry cleaners on Michigan Boulevard has entered the groundwater near the site and is headed toward Trail Creek, and the city wants nearby homes tested for possible fumes.

The property, on the northwest corner of 11th Street and Michigan Boulevard, was acquired by the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission late last year, according to Mayor Ron Meer. The site of the former Chrysler dealership was acquired from the La Porte County Board of Commissioners after it failed to sell at a tax sale.

Prior to the auto dealership, the site was home to a Concord Cleaners, owned by the Begley Company.

Meer said state and federal regulators had looked into possible contamination on the site “many, many years ago,” and when the city acquired it, “we investigated whether historical contamination exists.”

A couple of weeks ago, reports showed “pollution from dry cleaning chemicals used by the former Concord Cleaners had gotten into the ground water and migrated through the ground water to the north/northwest toward Trail Creek,” Meer said.

Early reports showed the plume of contamination had gone down into the ground some 30 to 40 feet. The mayor stressed the chemicals are in the ground water, not the drinking water.

“We’re not positive how the solvents got into the soil and ground water,” the mayor said, “but once we found out, we immediately contacted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which will contact the EPA.”

City officials also began to contact area residents and homeowners

“There is a possibility that vapors from the pollution in the ground water can rise and enter the air in the lowest level of a home,” Meer said. “We don’t know of any vapor intrustion into homes yet, but we want to test about 40-some homes in the area to be sure.”

He said all residents and homeowners have received letters about the issue, some delivered by hand.

“We wanted to let homeowners know as soon as possible,” the mayor said.

He advises homeowners that the only way to find out if polluted vapor has entered a home is to test the air in the lowest level and under the basement floor, slab or crawl space.

“In an abundance of caution,” Meer said, “the city will seek to conduct such air testing in all residences in the four-block area bounded by Tryon Street, Walker Street, Michigan Boulevard and 8th Street.”

He said homeowners can fill out a form to allow testing apparatus to be placed inside houses to see if fumes are detected.

The mayor is planning an informational meeting in the affected neighborhood, probably at the Michigan City Police Department, with experts on hand to answer questions.

“We’re bringing in consultants. We need to be prepared for whatever we find,” he said. “We’ve identified the problem and exposed the problem, but there are still questions left.”

The city’s findings led to a lawsuit being filed against Begley Company to pay for clean-up of the contamination, Meer said.

“When I found out that there was further contamination and the plume had gone further than expected, I was upset and concerned,” he said. “It is upsetting and disheartening that a business that was in the city for so long – from about 1966 to the late 1980s – would leave the property in that condition.”

The lawsuit could get bigger if further problems are found. “The city didn’t cause this problem,” Meer said. “We’re going after them.”

The property is basically a triangle at Michigan and 11th, and the city owns the entire lot after the county “basically donated it to us,” Meer said.

The plume of contamination is heaviest immediately below the site, and extends across Michigan Boulevard into an area encompassing Case, Holiday and Tryon streets; then downhill toward an area between the E Street Bridge and the edge of the Trail Creek Marina property.

Water sampling has been done in those areas, but no contamination was found, the mayor said.

Among the chemicals commonly used in the dry cleaning process are tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), which is considered toxic; trichloroethylene, considered a human carcinogen; and hydrocarbons. The mayor said he was unable to specify exactly which chemicals had been found on the site.

But he said the city had long been looking to clean up the eyesore for some time.

“It is on a main corridor, and we wanted to get the old buildings torn down. We’ve demolished most of the structures, except for one pole barn, which could be used for storage,” he said, stressing that the site itself is not considered hazardous.

“Our goal was to clean up and beautify, evaluate it to see if it was usable,” he said. “If we had not started the work there, the extent of this problem might not be known yet.”

Update hourly