FORT WAYNE – Saturday’s fire does not appear to have damaged the cleanup system at a contaminated metal coatings plant.
Wayne Metal Protection, a defunct plating company on the city’s east side, burned in a fire Saturday with a massive plume of black smoke that was visible for miles. The initial concern during the fire was that the blaze would release toxic chemicals into the air through the smoke or through the water firefighters were dumping on the flames, and firefighting was held up while officials tested the air and water.
But the cyanide, arsenic, lead and chromium in and around the plant had already been cleaned up. The contamination that remains is in the soil and groundwater underneath the plant and migrating toward Memorial Park Middle School, which sits just a few hundred feet away, and downhill, from the plant at 1511 Wabash Ave.
Cleaning up the soil and groundwater, contaminated with chlorinated solvents, is much more difficult, time consuming and expensive. Wayne Metal Protection has been out of business since 2008 and the effort to clean up the site has been marked by delays and problems. The pollution was first reported to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in 2004; it took until 2010 to get a state-approved cleanup plan for the site. Cleanup began in 2011.
Officials have constructed a network of wells on the site to draw the chemicals out of the soil, but IDEM officials reported this week that the system has yet to be turned on.
“The soil and groundwater remediation system has been installed, but has not been started yet, reportedly due to issues with Wayne Metals’ insurance carriers paying for previous costs,” IDEM spokesman Barry Sneed said in an email.
The visible part of the system involves a portable shed and a trailer on the southeast part of the site; demolition crews there Thursday said that aside from some smoke damage on the outside of the shed it appeared to be undamaged. According to a letter from Wayne Metal Protection’s attorney March 26, they had reached agreements with six different insurance carriers for settlement agreements, and the money from those agreements “will allow Wayne Metal (Protection) to fire up the remediation system in April.”
On Monday after the fire, IDEM Project Manager Aunna Huber demanded an update on the remediation system within seven days.
Chlorinated solvents move easily in groundwater and then evaporate as a gas up through the soil. The chemicals Wayne Metal Protection found in the soil and groundwater – tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene – have been linked to numerous health problems including spontaneous abortions, menstrual disorders, altered sperm structure and reduced fertility, miscarriages and developmental problems. They have also been connected to kidney and liver problems, can affect the nervous and immune systems and have been linked to kidney, liver and cervical cancer, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Also found in the groundwater was vinyl chloride, which is so dangerous the Environmental Protection Agency says there is no safe level of exposure.
Fort Wayne Fire Department officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, which destroyed the oldest, southernmost portion of the plant, which had operated since the 1940s.