City, EPA question commissioned environmental study

A recent study commissioned by a group of local parents presents a hypothetical spread of contaminants from the Amphenol/Franklin Power Products site, but local and federal officials say it is flawed.

The study, by Indianapolis-based environmental consulting firm Mundell and Associates, Inc., was intended to highlight areas where more environmental testing might be needed. It is drawing criticism from the Franklin Mayor’s Office, the city’s environmental consultant and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Groundwater testing already done in the areas where potential contamination is indicated has come back with negligible amounts of contamination.

The parent group, If It Was Your Child, stands by the study, which it paid for, and urges the EPA to order more testing based on its findings.

Amphenol, formerly located at 980 Hurricane Road, before 1983 released solvents through a floor drain at the facility. In the 1990s, it was thought the chemicals remained at the site.

If It Was Your Child formed in 2015. The group of concerned mothers wanted to get to the bottom of a high local rate of childhood cancer. They suspect Amphenol is at fault and started the ball rolling on environmental testing at and around the Amphenol site. There is no link between the contaminants and cancer, but scientists have determined contamination does exist beyond the Amphenol site.

A study by the EPA’s contractor and independent testing by EnviroForensics, the city’s environmental consultant, showed through testing that contaminants PCE and TCE made their way into the sanitary sewer lines of a nearby neighborhood and down Forsythe Street to Ross Court.

If It Was Your Child co-founders Kari Rhinehart and Stacie Davidson remain skeptical that the chemicals did not leak into Hurricane Creek or reach further south and east than the EPA’s identified contamination area.

“It didn’t seem logical to us, that through all the different aquifers and layers that it wouldn’t be able to go through and under the creek,” Rhinehart said.

The group wonders how contaminants could show up at Ross Court and Webb and Needham Elementary schools, based on the EPA’s plume, which led them to commission the study as a way to get the EPA to forge a deeper look at potential spread, she said.

The purpose of the study was not to scare people who live in the area, but to point out the possibility of further contamination and prompt more testing, Rhinehart said.

The city and the EPA received Mundell’s report June 1, but no heads up the study was coming, Mayor Steve Barnett said.

The EPA released a preliminary statement about the study questioning the usefulness of a model with no groundwater testing to back it up.

“At first glance, the agency has significant questions about the report and its conclusions. For instance, the study did not use groundwater sampling data to support the hypothetical plume location, data which are generally required to validate a model,” the statement says.

The EPA said its testing has shown no evidence contaminants reached beyond Hurricane Creek, based on groundwater data collected in residential areas along the creek.

Barnett has asked EnviroForensics to review the study to determine what steps, if any, the city should take, he said.

The city’s consultant, Casey McFall, a senior scientist with EnviroForensics, agreed with the EPA’s initial assessment that the study suggests contamination where there is none. For example, the model also suggests there could be contamination in Paris Estates, but previous tests showed no contamination there.

The study was not meant to pinpoint contamination, but rather to help guide the EPA to potential locations to test for contamination, said John Mundell, president and founder of Mundell and Associates.

“The purpose of the modeling was not to give an exact prediction of what is there — that can only be confirmed with testing. It was to determine if it was possible for contamination to go beyond the creek,” Mundell said.

Mundell encourages residents living in the area of the model plume to not be concerned until further testing is done to indicate whether there is contamination.

The study suggests groundwater samples ordered by the EPA have not gone deep enough — that contamination might have seeped into an aquifer at a level that has been tested, Mundell said.

Deeper groundwater testing is already underway at the site. The results of those tests will likely be made available in a new EPA report to be released later this summer, McFall said.

The commissioned study also points to information that is missing from the public view, such as a full investigation report and more information about recent clean-up efforts, Mundell said.

The lack of transparency has concerned Rhinehart and other local parents for years. All along, they have felt like testing lagged behind what is appropriate to determine the true spread, she said.

“It is an endless cycle of frustration. As a private citizen, it is not my job to make the EPA do their job. But that’s what we have to do,” Rhinehart said.

“We can’t put in monitoring wells. We sell t-shirts for money. We can’t sell $40,000 in t-shirts. That shouldn’t be the norm for us to have to do our own testing,” she said about the EPA’s suggestion that the commissioned study should have included actual testing.

Barnett understands why the group and others in the city are concerned. He, too, wants the city to be clean. That is why city officials still attend monthly meetings with stakeholders and continue to employ EnviroForensics to monitor the EPA’s work and do its own independent testing, he said.

The city is willing to do more tests if EnviroForensics recommends it, and he supports more testing by the EPA if the agency deems it necessary. He is confident both will take appropriate actions, he said.

“I think it is good that we have people who are concerned. They want the EPA to look into it. If the EPA feels like they need to look into this I am in full support of that. But it is ultimately going to be up to the EPA on what actions, if any, they will take,” Barnett said.

He was caught off guard by the study and hopes to work together with all stakeholders as the ongoing cleanup continues.

“I think this causes a lot of confusion. I wish they would have talked to the EPA about this before putting out this report. The EPA and the City of Franklin got the report the same day it went public. It would have been more becoming for them to work with the city and the EPA to get things accomplished,” Barnett said.

The EPA says the site is 65% remediated.

“As is our mission, EPA will take any steps it determines are necessary to understand the extent of the contaminated groundwater plume and will ensure that remedial action is taken to protect public health and the environment,” an EPA statement says. “EPA has worked with the Amphenol Corp. to complete interim cleanup activities including installing mitigation measures in homes, completing a sewer and soil remedy, and operating an on-site groundwater pump-and-treat system.”

A sanitary sewer project to replace contaminated lines on Forsythe Street was completed in 2020, and a storm water project on Forsythe Street is underway right now. Amphenol is paying for both projects.

Details about final remediation plans are expected this summer, along with the report about recent activities at the site.