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U.S. EPA REGION 5
ELKHART COUNTY
ELKHART

Congressional District # 2

CONRAIL RAIL YARD (ELKHART)

EPA ID# IND000715490
Last Updated: February, 2012

Site Description

The Conrail Rail Yard Site is located adjacent to and within the southwestern city limits of Elkhart, Indiana.  The Site, which includes a rail yard, drag strip, and other areas of contamination, encompasses roughly 2500 acres. The rail yard (Rail Yard Area) is an electronically controlled hump yard operated by Norfolk Southern Corporation which serves as a classification distribution yard for freight cars. The Osceola Dragway (the Drag Strip Area) is a commercial drag racing facility. Additionally, there are several light industrial properties located within the study area as well as several residential areas comprised mainly of single-family homes.  Chemical contaminants at the Conrail Rail Yard Site consist primarily of trichloroethylene (TCE) and carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) in soil and groundwater at the Rail Yard Area and of CCl4 in soil and groundwater at the Drag Strip Area near the Vistula Avenue residential area.

The Rail Yard Area, which comprises approximately 675 acres, began operations in 1956 as part of the New York Central Railroad and continued operations as a subsidiary of the Penn Central Transportation Company until 1976. In the early 1960s, a railcar containing carbon tetrachloride was punctured, and the contents were emptied onto the ground. From 1962 to 1968, numerous citizens' complaints were filed regarding oil discharges. In 1976, Conrail took over the railyard's functions. From 1976 to 1986, the railyard experienced spills and releases of oil, diesel fuel, hydrochloric acid, caustic soda, and various petroleum-related substances. Track-cleaning fluids and engine degreasers were also used and disposed of at the site.  In 1986, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) discovered volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the groundwater near the site. Before any site response actions were taken, the population north and west of the site obtained its drinking water from private residential wells.  Further north and east of the site, the Elkhart Water Works serves approximately 41,000 people. 

Site Responsibility

This site is being addressed through potentially responsible parties' actions conducted under federal enforcement actions.

Threats and Contaminants

Two ground water contaminant plumes are present at the Site.  One plume, called the "County Road 1 Plume" and containing high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) and carbon tetachloride (CCl4), emanates from the Rail Yard Area and trends northwest to the Vistula Avenue residential area.  The second plume, called the "LaRue Street Plume" and containing TCE, emanates from the eastern portion of the Rail Yard Area and flows north to the La Rue Street residential area.

Wells in the vicinity of the Site were found to contain up to 5,000 parts per billion (ppb) CCl4 and similar concentrations of TCE.  (Bottled water and filters were provided immediately to residents when discovered.)   Additionally, nine residences had indoor vapor levels of carbon tetrachloride that exceeded an action level.

Potential health threats could be posed by consuming contaminated groundwater or inhaling the chemical solvents if venting indoors.

Cleanup Progress

A Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) was issued to Conrail and Penn Central by EPA in 1992 ordering them to implement the remedy selected as documented in the 1991 Record of Decision (ROD). Conrail complied with this UAO. Approximately 458 of the 475 residences and businesses were hooked up to the Elkhart city water supply by spring 1996. The remaining 27 residences refused access.

In 1995, a UAO was issued to Conrail and Penn Central to perform the additional hookups to the Elkhart city water supply that were required under an additional selected remedy as documented in the final 1994 ROD. Both companies complied with this UAO. Approximately 648 of the 683 residences and businesses were provided with an alternate water supply (35 residences refused access).

The other portions of the final remedy, including implementing the groundwater remedy and testing and cleaning up VOC vapors in basements in a small area near the Osceola Drag Strip, were implemented under a Consent Decree (CD) with Conrail and Penn Central. The Consent Decree is a legal document, signed by a judge, that formalized an agreement between EPA and Conrail and Penn Central.  This CD was entered on November 10, 1997. VOC vapor testing was performed from late 1998-2000, and nine homes were found to have carbon tetrachloride vapor levels above the level of concern for the site.  These homes have been provided with basement venting units, which have successfully mitigated the vapors. 

A Record of Decision Amendment, which documented a technical impracticability waiver for the ground water source contamination on the rail yard was executed on September 27, 2000.  The result of the ROD Amendment was that the source areas on the rail yard were hydraulically contained instead of restoring the source areas to below drinking water standards.  Construction of that system and a pilot system for the Drag Strip Area were completed in June 2004.  A five year review was completed on September 27, 2004.  This review indicated that the remedy for the Site continued to be protective of human health and the environment.

A third Five-Year Review of the site was completed by EPA on June 15, 2009. That review concluded that the ground water remedy is not operating as intended and that some ground water contamination is escaping the capture system. EPA considered the site remedy protective in the short term due to the provision of municipal water to the residents and soil-vapor extraction systems in some homes, but that the remedy lacked long term effectiveness. Subsequently, EPA requested that the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) develop a work plan to address the issues raised in the Five-Year Review. EPA approved an initial work plan and the PRP initiated an investigation in 2009.

The PRP investigation of the drag strip and rail yard areas, that included soil borings, ground water sampling and the installation of new monitoring wells, is complete. In addition, pressure tests were conducted at both the rail yard and the drag strip areas to determine the extent of contaminated ground water capture by the ground water treatment systems. Results from the investigation showed that additional remedial actions are necessary at both the rail yard area and the drag strip area.  EPA has approved the final design for the rail yard area which will include the installation of two additional extraction wells on the western end of the current line of containment wells. 

Construction at the rail yard area is scheduled to begin in January 2012.  Additional Remedial Actions will also be needed at the Drag Strip Area.  Draft Remedial Design documents are expected for EPA review during winter 2012.  Based on EPA approval, construction should begin during spring 2012.  EPA also requested modifications to the Vapor Intrusion (VI) monitoring at the site based on the results of the 2009 Five-Year Review.  The PRP Group has submitted a draft monitoring plan, EPA provided comments on that draft, and a revised VI Work Plan is due on January 12, 2012.  It is anticipated that the revised monitoring plan will be implemented by spring 2012.

Success Story

There were several success stories at the Conrail site.  First, after the discovery of ground water contamination, the EPA emergency removal program responded very quickly and provided affected residents with bottled water and whole house filter systems to eliminate the human exposure pathway.

Second, the level of cooperation between EPA, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and CLEAN was very high.  A prime example of this was when, during the public comment period for the final ROD, CLEAN suggested that indoor vapor testing be conducted, EPA included such a requirement in the final ROD.  After Conrail conducted this testing, nine homes with carbon tetrachloride vapor levels that exceeded the applicable action level for the site were identified.  These homes were provided with basement venting units (similar to "radon units"), and the carbon tetrachloride vapor levels were reduced to well below acceptable concentrations.  The Conrail Site was one of the first in the nation to identify and remedy indoor vapor problems associated with ground water contamination from a Superfund site.

Lastly, Conrail and EPA worked cooperatively to identify and take initial remedial actions in the drag strip carbon tetrachloride source area that appears to be the major contributor to the indoor vapor problems.  This source area is now being re-evaluated by the PRPs under the oversight of EPA based on the results of the 2009 Five Year Review. Any modifications to the groundwater treatment system in this area should accelerate remediation.

Community Involvement

The community was heavily involved throughout the process of studying and cleaning up the Site.  The Citizen's League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) received several technical assistance grants (TAGs) which allowed them to hire a technical expert to assist them in understanding and commenting on the various aspects of the site cleanup activities.  Currently, public meetings are held whenever there is new information on site activities.

Congressional Interest

There has been little congressional interest in this site.

Property Reuse

The Conrail Railyard site was and continues to be an operating railyard. The Osceola Dragway continues to operate as a drag strip; currently, there are no reuse issues.

Contacts

Remedial Project Manager, U.S. EPA
timothy drexler (drexler.timothy@epa.gov)
(312) 353-4367

Community Involvement Coordinator, U.S. EPA
janet pope
(312) 353-0628

Aliases

COUNTY RD 1
CONRAIL RAILYARD ELKHART

 

Site Profile Information

This profile provides you with information on EPA's cleanup progress at this Superfund site.

 


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