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How Clean Is Clean?

Residents: Proposed fix for Hilton Davis site isn’t enough

By Matt Cunningham · February 17th, 2010 · News
A 20-year investigation and debate over toxic waste at a Pleasant Ridge industrial site may be nearing its end, as state regulators have issued a draft plan to clean the Hilton Davis chemical facility — a plan that many nearby residents call insufficient.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the plan late last month and will hold a final public hearing on the matter Feb. 25 at Pleasant Ridge Community Center.

“This is essentially a draft of the recommendation (that) staff makes to the director of the Ohio EPA on what we believe is the proper remedy for the site,” says Ohio EPA spokesperson Dina Pierce. “It’s a fairly straightforward process.”

But not everyone involved in the issue feels the same. “It’s immensely frustrating,” says Steve Simon, former Pleasant Ridge community councilman and chair of the neighborhood’s Hilton Davis committee. “I’m immensely disappointed with the Ohio EPA.”

To understand the stakes at the meeting, it helps to know the Hilton Davis site’s history. A string of companies have produced dyes, pigments, food coloring and other chemicals at the plant since it opened in 1927. The chemical processes used at the plant produced waste that plant operators disposed of in open lagoons and a series of ravine and trench landfills.

This is where the issues began. Pleasant Ridge residents started getting concerned over strong smells coming from the plant in the 1980s, according to Simon. Investigators traced the odors to toxic waste in lagoons on six of the site’s 80 acres and the neighborhood, with the help of Hamilton County officials, took the company to court.

“In the ‘80s, they rose up and demanded a cleanup of the site,” Simon says. “That was cleaned up to top standards.”

After the lagoon cleanup, the Ohio EPA entered into a consent decree with Hilton Davis.

The court-sanctioned agreement called for a study on the extent of pollution at the site. A series of trenches and ravine landfills came to the forefront as containing toxic waste, and the company — under court order — hired an outside analyst to propose a cleanup plan that would protect the site’s neighbors and surrounding ecosystem.

All along, Pierce says, local residents have been a part of the process.

“The community there is very well versed in that site,” she says. “We’ve always heard from them and know pretty much what they think.”

Simon became involved in Pleasant Ridge’s efforts regarding the site in 2006, and his view of the situation differs from Pierce’s.

“As far as we’re concerned, Ohio EPA’s plan is Kodak’s plan,” he says, referring to the parent company of the site’s current owner.

The EPA’s draft document seems to back this up. On pages 7 and 8 of the 71-page document, a chart lists the EPA’s environmental remediation recommendations alongside those of North Pastoria Environmental Co., the Kodak-owned landowner responsible for the cleanup. With two exceptions (the installation of extra monitoring equipment on one landfill and the excavation of another), the EPA’s 15 recommendations are near mirror-image reflections of what the company sought.

With the exception of one landfill, the EPA contends in its report that the ground under the site is stable enough, with the toxins found at such low concentrations, that there isn’t a substantial threat to the neighbors, their groundwater or the surrounding air and soil if they’re contained, rather than removed. The agency’s recommendations call for either clay/soil or asphalt to be applied to seal the landfills, monitoring equipment to be installed to catch any leaks in the system and a groundwater cleaning system to be installed.

“We perceived it as putting a layer of soil over the toxic waste and walking away,” Simon says. “What we wanted is a cleanup.”

The community leader said he and other Pleasant Ridge residents are working to spread word about the February meeting in the hope that a large turnout may sway the EPA to change its recommendations to ones focused more on cleanup than containment.

“We are going to try for as big a turnout as we can at that meeting,” he says.

There is a chance comments from the meeting could lead to a change in the EPA’s final recommendation, according to Pierce.

“In some cases it may cause us to rethink things, go back and take another look,” she says. “In a lot of cases we can say during a public meeting, ‘here’s why (we did it this way),’ or ‘we hadn’t thought of that, let’s put it on a recommendation and go look at it.’ ” While Pierce added that there’s no standard by which to judge whether public comments from the meeting will indeed change the EPA’s final recommendations, she did say that the remediation at the site could begin as early as this year. Once the EPA recommendation is finalized, the company has 30 days to prepare a remediation plan and another 30 days after that to put the plan in motion. Everything, however, hinges on when the recommendation gets finalized. And that could depend on how many — and what kind of — comments residents bring to the meeting.

“The comments we get will be good ones,” she says, “because the community is very knowledgeable about the site.

“That always helps.”

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the plan late last month and will hold a final public hearing on the matter Feb. 25 at Pleasant Ridge Community Center.



02.17.2010 at 04:22 Reply
The date of the public hearing for Hilton Davis is actually Feb. 25 (Th), not Feb. 24 (W), as the story reports. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the Pleasant Ridge Community Center at 5915 Ridge Avenue.


02.22.2010 at 12:59
Thank you for correcting the date on the online version of this article!


02.25.2010 at 07:24 Reply
Emerald Hilton Davis has had to cut employees and is struggling to stay in business. I think it is counter productive for the surrounding neighborhood and EPA to demand further expensive cleanup procedures at this time. The neighborhood's increasing crime is alarming. Drugs, robberies and ramdom shootings make it dangerous for Emerald's employees to work in the neighborhood. Certainly the area does not need any more emply, rundown buildings. Emerald's well kept grounds and flower beds are a bright spot in an otherwise blighted area. Work with this company-not against it. The area needs the taxes, jobs and business that Emerald Hilton Davis contributes.


02.26.2010 at 09:49
Emerald Hilton Davis is not responsible for the cleanup, Kodak is. Because it is likely that Emerald will be out of business in the next 10 years, it is critical that the site is cleaned up so that it may be used for things other than industry. Those responsible have a legal and moral obligation to remove all of the waste.


03.05.2010 at 11:50
Get your facts straight. Crime is down 33% in P.R. and is one of the only neighborhoods in Cincinnati where the prices of housing has increased. Stop backing industrial slack!


03.05.2010 at 11:51
Mary, what are you smoking? Flowers? nothing is "blighted" about P.R. go to pleasantridge.org to learn about our communtiy!


04.11.2010 at 08:05
PRidger, it is quite obvious from Marys' comments that the writer is talking about Bond Hill and Golf Manor, NOT Pleasant Ridge. (I wasn't aware that Hilton Davis was IN Pleasant Ridge). At least two Hilton Davis employees have been robbed at gunpoint on the sidewalk in front of the plant. As for blight, get out of your nice neighborhood and cruise Bond Hill. Golf Manor, a well-kept community a mere forty years ago, is rife with general disrepair and unkept lawns. And I agree that there's nothing blighted about Pleasant Ridge, with the exception of the yard signs that spring up like weeds during election seasons.


03.01.2010 at 06:02 Reply
The 1986 Consent Decree regarding the Hilton Davis site required the following: 1) the property owner - now Kodak - clean up the site, 2) the Ohio EPA select methods that would best protect public health and maximize public benefits, and 3) the community have a “seat at the table” in determining the clean-up. Kodak developed its plan - which is essentially covering up 50 years of toxic waste with a layer of dirt - and the Ohio EPA has basically adopted it with a couple minor changes. This plan COVERS UP toxic waste on the site; it does not clean it up. And it certainly does not maximize public health and public benefits. Lastly, the community has not had a seat at the table; Pleasant Ridge residents have tried to communicate their concerns and ideas to EPA officials, but they have not listened. Hundreds of PR residents have urged the EPA for a more complete cleanup through petitions, letters, email messages, etc. The City of Cincinnati passed a resolution asking for a more complete cleanup, and state senators have met with EPA officials. But the EPA has ignored all of it.