EPA approves plan for cleaning up toxic pollution in Franklin, ending nearly 40-year wait
Decades after toxic pollution was discovered in Franklin — a Johnson County community with a troubling cluster of childhood cancer cases — cleanup at the site appears to be entering its final stages.
In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken interim steps to address cancer-causing chemicals that spread from a former industrial site. Now it's going to the source.
The agency last year announced a proposal to clean-up the remaining contamination on what is known as the Amphenol site. The location is near a creek, with homes to the south and downtown Franklin to the southwest. Just last week, the EPA announced the plan is final.
What is the clean-up plan for Franklin?
There are two parts to the EPA's plan. First, it will inject materials into the ground to break down and destroy the remaining toxins. This is called an in-situ approach.
The second element includes installing permeable reactive barriers along the property border and rights of way south of the site. Barriers are created by injecting zero valent iron or carbon substrate products into the ground. Water can pass through, but they capture contaminants or chemically change them into less toxic forms.
What pollution is it cleaning up?
The main contaminants are trichloroethylene, or TCE, and tetrachloroethylene, or PCE. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list both as known carcinogens, meaning they can cause cancer in humans.
Where did the pollution come from?
Before it housed the Amphenol Corp., a company called Bendix manufactured electrical parts at the facility from 1961-1983. In the process, it generated metal sludges, solvents of volatile organic compounds and cyanide solutions.
What are the problems with the site over the years?
The contamination was discovered in 1984. Testing showed serious levels of pollution in the soil and groundwater. Still, a system to contain and treat the contamination was not installed until 11 years later. That same pump and treat system operates on the site today, but it has not sufficiently mitigated the problems.
IndyStar reporting raised questions about the lack of action and data collection to address the pollution. Beyond the slow-moving clean-up efforts, the EPA also misled the public about risks of cancer-causing contamination in Franklin’s groundwater, a 2019 review by the agency’s Office of Inspector General found.
Public health: 'EPA failed Franklin' — Families, environmental group demand investigation into contamination
What are the public health concerns?
Franklin residents started asking questions after several children were diagnosed with rare forms of cancer. Since 2008, at least 79 cases of pediatric cancer were reported in the area, according to Kari Rhinehart, a co-founder of a local nonprofit raising awareness about contamination in the community. Rhinehart's daughter, Emma Grace Findley, died in 2014 from a rare brain tumor.
Chemicals found at the site are known to cause cancer, but it is impossible to determine if contamination contributed to cases in Johnson County.
Following community outcry, the EPA and Indiana Department of Environmental Management reopened an investigation in 2018 and confirmed harmful vapors were getting into homes.
What are the next steps?
This plan was approved after a 75-day public comment period. An EPA official previously told IndyStar these methods were tested in a pilot study in Franklin and it proved successful.
It is unclear when the work, which includes ongoing monitoring, will begin.
Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.
IndyStar's environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Franklin pollution: EPA announces plan to clean up toxic chemicals