EPA prepares for cleanup at Elm Street Superfund site

Apr. 25—Late this summer, an environmental cleanup involving soil excavation will begin at an 18.5-acre area located west of Third Street and south of Locust Street, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Work at the Elm Street Groundwater Contamination Superfund site is expected to begin in August and take about five weeks, said Celine Wysgalla, EPA remedial project manager for the site.

The site is bounded by Locust Street to the north, Third Street to the east, railroad tracks to the south and First Street to the west. It is located directly south across Locust from Indiana State University's Sycamore Stadium baseball complex.

The project stems from volatile organic compounds found in water wells dating back to the 1980s.

The work will involve removal of about 1,500 tons of soil and go down about five feet.

Groundwater monitoring wells are in place both on and off site. Based on a pre-design investigation, groundwater sampling at off site wells have met cleanup goals, Wysgalla said.

Onsite, tetrachloroethylene or PCE is the only contaminant of concern in groundwater above cleanup goals, according to an EPA fact sheet.

"It's only onsite that we're seeing slightly elevated levels of PCE," Wysgalla said. The planned soil excavation should address the on-site groundwater contamination, she said.

If monitoring shows soil removal alone does not address the problem, the remedial plan also calls for soil vapor extraction, which would involve installing wells to extract vapors. It's a process used where soil contaminated by volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, is too deep to be removed.

While the project involves a Superfund cleanup site, Wysgalla doesn't see a need for the public to be concerned.

"At this point, we've made a decision on how we're going to address the contamination. We're not seeing the groundwater contamination migrate offsite at all," she said.

While Indiana American Water Co. does have facilities nearby west of First Street, it is outside the contamination zone and water provided by the company and treated at its water treatment plant does meeting safe drinking water standards, Wysgalla said.

"I see no reason for concern at this time," she said.

EPA has provided public notice of the project, including contacts for those wanting more information. Cheryl Allen is the EPA community involvement coordinator and her contact information is allen.cheryl@epa.gov or she can be reached at 312-353-6196.

EPA representatives conducted virtual sessions with interested parties this week to answer questions and to develop a Community Involvement Plan for the site that will help keep those interested or concerned updated.

The project is expected to begin in August and take five weeks, with one week for site preparation, two weeks for excavation and two weeks to demobilize and restore the site, Wysgalla said.

EPA will oversee the cleanup.

In 2017, the projected cost of cleanup was $3.8 million; that cost included soil vapor extraction, which may or may not be implemented, Wysgalla said.

According to information on EPA's website, on Sept. 14, 2023, EPA signed a legal agreement with the parties considered potentially responsible (PRPs) for the contamination to implement cleanup at the site.

The parties include: GCSC Enterprises, Inc. (formerly Gurman Container and Supply Co.); Valvoline LLC; CR-Troy, Inc. (formerly Consolidated Recycling); and Machine Tool Service, or MTS.

In 2017, EPA and the companies agreed on a cleanup plan for the site, explained in a document called the record of decision. In 2019, EPA and the companies signed an agreement to design the cleanup.

That cleanup plan included:

—Removing contaminated soil from areas accessible to the public. The contaminated soil will be disposed of off-site.

—Installing wells to extract vapors using a process called soil vapor extraction, where soil contaminated by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is too deep to be removed.

VOCs are organic compounds that can easily turn to gases.

—Monitoring groundwater until cleanup goals are met and to demonstrate the effectiveness of the soil cleanup, which will reduce contaminants in the groundwater.

—Implementing land-use restrictions to eliminate the disturbance of contaminated soil in the area where the contamination is too deep to be removed.

Based on additional data collected during the pre-design phase, soil vapor extraction will be deferred until further monitoring data is collected after soil excavation.

If monitoring shows that soil removal alone is not enough to meet the cleanup goals, then the companies will need to design and implement soil vapor extraction, as required under the 2017 cleanup plan.

If the monitoring shows the soil removal alone is enough to meet the cleanup goals, EPA will propose a formal change to the cleanup plan to no longer require the soil vapor extraction.


The contamination was first discovered in the 1980s, when several wells in the area were found to have volatile organic compounds. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management conducted a site assessment from 1987 to 1989 and identified three potential source areas for the pollution, according to the EPA.

In 1999 and 2000 IDEM sampled soil and groundwater and found that some of the chemicals detected in the affected wells were also detected in soil and groundwater at the three facilities investigated.

In 2007, EPA placed the site on the National Priorities List, a list of Superfund sites nationwide.

Because the parties declined to participate in the remedial investigation and feasibility study, EPA began the investigation in 2008 with federal funds.

These funds have since been recuperated through the recent legal agreement with the companies, EPA states.

During the remedial investigation, which examines the extent of the contamination, volatile organic compounds were detected in the groundwater and surface and subsurface soil. Arsenic was found in the groundwater and soil. Other metals, PCBs and pesticides were also found in the soil.

In 2013, Ashland notified EPA that it would voluntarily remove contaminated soil from its property and demolish several on-site buildings and structures.

The remedial investigation was completed in October 2016 and the feasibility study, which evaluates cleanup alternatives, was completed in July 2017.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com. Follow Sue on X at @TribStarSue.