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U.S. EPA REGION 5
ELKHART COUNTY
ELKHART

Congressional District # 2

CONRAIL RAIL YARD (ELKHART)

EPA ID# IND000715490
Last Updated: January, 2014

Site Description

The 2500-acre Conrail Rail Yard ("Conrail") Superfund site is located adjacent to and within the southwestern city limits of Elkhart, Indiana.  The Conrail site features a rail yard, a drag strip, and other areas impacted by solvent contamination.  The rail yard (the "Rail Yard Area") is an electronically-controlled hump yard operated by Norfolk Southern Corporation that 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 site consist primarily of the solvents 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 emptied onto the ground. From 1962 to 1968, numerous citizens' complaints were filed regarding oil discharges.  In 1976, Conrail took over the rail yard's functions.  From 1976 to 1986, the rail yard 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 (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. 

EPA placed the Conrail site on the National Priorities List in 1990.

Site Responsibility

The Conrail Rail Yard site is being addressed through potentially responsible parties' (PRP) actions under state and federal oversight.

Threats and Contaminants

Two groundwater contaminant plumes are present at the Conrail site.  The "County Road 1 Plume" contains high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) and carbon tetachloride (CCl4) and emanates from the Rail Yard Area northwest towards the Vistula Avenue residential area.  The "LaRue Street Plume" contains TCE and emanates from the eastern portion of the Rail Yard Area and flows north towards 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.)   In contrast, the Safe Drinking Water Act Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for both TCE and CCl4 is 5 ppm.  Additionally, nine residences had indoor vapor levels of CCL4 that exceeded a recommended action level.

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

Cleanup Progress

EPA issued an interim Record of Decision (ROD) in 1991 to provide municipal water to over 400 residences and to treat contaminated groundwater.  EPA then issued a Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) to potentially responsible parties (PRPs) Conrail and Penn Central in 1992 that ordered them to implement the remedy EPA selected in the 1991 ROD.  Conrail complied with this UAO.  Approximately 458 of 475 impacted residences and businesses were hooked up to the Elkhart city water supply by spring 1996.  The remaining 27 residences refused access so hookups were not completed at those homes.

In 1994, EPA issued a final ROD to provide municipal water to over 1000 residences plus abate potential indoor air intrusion hazards.  In 1995, EPA issued a UAO to Conrail and Penn Central to perform the additional hookups to the Elkhart city water supply that were required under the 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 vapor in basements in a small area near the Osceola Drag Strip, were implemented under a Consent Decree (CD) with Conrail and Penn Central.  The CD is a legal document that formalized a cleanup agreement between EPA and Conrail and Penn Central.  This CD was made binding 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 that have successfully mitigated the vapors. 

On September 27, 2000, EPA issued a ROD Amendment that documented a technical impracticability waiver for the ground water source contamination at the Rail Yard Area.  The result of the ROD Amendment was that the source areas at the Rail Yard Area were to be 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.

EPA completed the second five year review (FYR) of the Conrail site cleanup action on September 27, 2004.  The FYR report indicated that the remedy for the site continued to be protective of human health and the environment.

EPA completed the third FYR of the site on June 15, 2009. The FYR report concluded that the groundwater remedy was not operating as intended and that some groundwater contamination was escaping the capture system.  EPA considered the site remedy to be protective in the short term due to the provision of municipal water to the residents and soil-vapor mitigation systems in some homes, but that the remedy lacked long-term effectiveness.  Subsequently, EPA requested that the PRPs develop a work plan to address the issues raised in the FYR report.  EPA approved an initial work plan and the PRPs initiated an investigation in 2009.

The PRP investigation of the Drag Strip and Rail Yard Areas included the taking of soil boring samples, ground water samples, and the installation of new monitoring wells, and was completed in 2011.  Pressure tests were conducted at both the Rail Yard and the Drag Strip Areas to determine the extent of contaminated groundwater capture by the groundwater treatment systems.  Results from the investigation showed that additional remedial actions were necessary at both the Rail Yard and the Drag Strip Areas.  EPA approved the Rail Yard Area modified remedial design plans, and, in September 2012, the PRPs installed two extraction wells on the western end of the current line of containment wells and modified the water treatment system to accommodate that change.  Pressure testing of the Rail Yard Area modified groundwater containment system was conducted in February 2013.  Subsequent monitoring of the Rail Yard system shows, to-date, that it is adequately containing the groundwater contaminant plume.

In late 2013, the PRPs installed four new shallow groundwater monitoring wells downgradient of the residential neighborhood near the Drag Strip source area. The monitoring wells should aid in evaluating any potential remaining soil vapor risks.  Additionally, details of a recent subslab investigation are currently being discussed by EPA, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), and the PRPs.  A Remedial Design document for the Drag Strip source area, submitted by the PRPs in April 2013, was reviewed by EPA and IDEM.  EPA and IDEM concluded that additional remedial actions are needed beyond those proposed by the PRPs.

EPA plans to complete the fourth FYR of the Conrail site remedial actions in June 2014.  The FYR report will evaluate the effectiveness of the groundwater and soil vapor mitigation systems installed at the site.

Success Story

There were several success stories at the Conrail site.  First, after the discovery of groundwater contamination, EPA's 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, IDEM, 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 groundwater contamination from a Superfund site.

Lastly, Conrail and EPA worked cooperatively to identify and take initial remedial actions at the Drag Strip Area 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 EPA oversight based on the results of the 2009 FYR report. Any modifications to the groundwater treatment system in this area should accelerate cleanup progress.

Community Involvement

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

Property Reuse

Both the Rail Yard Area and the Osceola Dragway continue to be operated as a rail yard and drag strip, respectively. 

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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