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Toxic wastewater ends up in Vickery

Tom Jackson • May 10, 2014 at 4:50 PM

If you follow environmental news at all, you probably heard about the big chemical leak in West Virginia in January that contaminated water for hundreds of thousands of people and polluted the Ohio River.

But you may not know quite a bit of the contaminated water wound up in northern Ohio.

Between 40,000 and 45,000 gallons of water polluted by MCMH, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical used for cleansing coal, was injected into a deep well in Vickery used for getting rid of hazardous wastes, said Dina Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA.

The four wells at the site are heavily regulated, and there’s no evidence waste from them has left the area where it’s supposed to be, Pierce said. She said the EPA maintains a full-time employee on the site to monitor the four Vickery environmental wells that are licensed by the EPA.

According to an article published Jan. 9 in the Charleston Gazette, residents in eight West Virginia counties and part of a ninth were warned not to drink, cook or wash with water supplied by West Virginia American Water after the chemical spill. The Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 21 that about 10,000 gallons of the chemical spilled into water during the incident, affecting about 300,000 people. The company blamed for the accident, Freedom Industries, filed for bankruptcy after being hit with about 20 lawsuits.

Pierce said the MCMHcontaminated water that was pumped into the Vickery well is considered toxic waste but is not considered hazardous waste. The wells in Vickery are allowed to take hazardous waste, she said.

Since new regulations went into effect in the mid-1980s, there have been no releases from the wells, Pierce said. In 2008, an injection tube at the site cracked and was fixed, she said.

Four wells are currently operated in Vickery, each under a separate permit. The wells in Vickery are classified as Class 1 injection wells.

“Class I wells inject hazardous and non-hazardous wastes into deep, isolated rock formations that are thousands of feet below the lowermost underground source of drinking water,” according to the Ohio EPA’s website.

“Class I injection wells inject far below the lowermost aquifer. Injection zones typically range from 1,700 to more than 10,000 feet in depth. The injection zone is separated from any aquifers by an impermeable ‘cap’ rock called the confining layer, along with additional layers of permeable and impermeable rock and sediment,” the website states.

A Frequently Asked Questions document at the Ohio EPA’s site includes an answer to the question, “How does the Ohio EPA know that the wastes stay where they are injected?”

The answer: Many different tests are carried out.

“There are numerous tests to determine fluid movements; one test uses a temperature sensor run through the length of the well to identify zones which have accepted fluid. Testing with an advanced microphone system allows recognition of flow behind cemented casing. Annual pressure fall-off testing provides information on the condition of the injection interval including the presence or absence of fractures. Finally, ground water monitoring is also conducted at facilities. Monitoring wells are used to observe ground water quality in the lowermost USDW or to monitor pressure and chemistry in deeper zones above the injection interval”

The Vickery wells are located near the Clydearea cancer cluster, a series of cancer cases that have sickened and killed young people in the Clyde area.

Writing in a July 30, 2013, “For Thinking People” blog post at the Sandusky Register’s website, local environmentalist Ruth Haag argued the Vickery wells should not be overlooked as a possible source of the cancers.

Citing a state health department report, which she linked to, Haag wrote the Vickery wells had problems in the 1970s and early 1980s, before new regulations took effect, that allowed wastes to get into areas where they weren’t supposed to be.

“The mystery to me now is why no one talks about this” Haag wrote.

The 51-page report Haag cited, “Childhood Cancer among Residents of Eastern Sandusky County,” is posted as a PDF on the website of Sandusky County’s health department, alwayschoosehealth.com  . It discussed the Vickery wells and other possible sources of the cancer cluster, including Whirlpool and local town dumps, but reached no conclusion on a cause.

Sandusky County health commissioner David Pollick, who sits on a local committee that monitors the Vickery wells, said last year he rejects the theory the wells could have caused the cancer cluster.

He said there is no evidence of a “disease pathway” linking the wells to the illnesses.

“We have 100 monitoring wells around there,” he said. “It’s never migrated off the property”

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