Rising Precipitation Levels Threatens the Future of Superfund Sites in Indiana

With climate change rapidly threatening many aspects of life as we know it, flooding is a particular threat. That, in turn, threatens Superfund sites, which in Indiana are in great danger from flooding. 

A Superfund site is an area that is highly polluted and requires long-term response to clean up. Many Superfund sites are investigated and administered by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but there are some that are yet to be investigated. According to a federal report, 25 of 53 Superfund sites in Indiana face the highest flood risk. With many of the Superfund sites in Indiana located near rivers or large areas of water, the risk increases. 

According to an article published by Purdue University, data shows that precipitation in Indiana has been rising 15 percent every year since 1895. With higher water levels and potentially reaching the Superfund sites can lead to toxic wastes to spread to unwanted areas. The toxic pollutants could be pushed into communities near a body of water.

A Superfund site in Goshen — where Johnson Controls operated near Goshen High School — continues to contaminate the area. There was also an investigation conducted by the EPA to test for water contamination for the Groundwater at North Wellfield. However, there are six in Elkhart, Indiana. The sites that are on the EPA’s long term clean up list are: 

  • Conrail Rail Yard
  • HIMCO Dump
  • Lane ST GroundWater contamination
  • Lusher ST Groundwater contamination 
  • Main ST Well Field and North Shore Drive

Concerns and investigation about the Conrail Rail Yard Superfund began in 1976, according to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Even though the agency began its investigation in 1976, it wouldn’t be until 10 years later that they found “contamination in [a] private well.” 14 years after finding contamination, the federal, state and local government began to work on a plan for the cleanup.

Several residents complained in 1974, “about color, taste, and odor problems with their shallow wells,” near the HIMCO Dump. A plan to treat this issue was made public until 1992, according to the EPA. 

According to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Lane St Groundwater and Lusher St Groundwater contamination only affected shallow private wells. Floodings near or at these locations, will cause higher levels of unsafe drinking water. Breathing near these locations can expose humans and other animals to health risks. Information on the Main Street Well Field is not available. 

The human exposure for all of these sites, except Lusher ST Groundwater, contamination is under control according to the EP. These sites are under yearly review to get an update on the cleaning process. 

Goshen Mayor Jeremey Stutsman said, “The EPA is the one directly managing the sites.” He contacts the EPA if it seems like a site might be contaminated. “Within a day they come and conduct the testing,” stated Mayor Stutsman. Despite the concerns of Superfund sites, Mayor Stutsman does not hold control since such sites are supervised by the EPA. 

With flooding happening more often in the area, the danger residents of Elkhart county pose rises to an alarming level. With danger detected in Superfund sites especially those near a body of water, planning and prevention is crucial. The earlier they find and identify such sites, the easier it will be to create and execute clean up. Addressing how climate change is affecting and will continue to affect these Superfund sites is one of the EPA’s main goals.

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Written by Giselle Munoz, Contributing Writer

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