Cleanup In Kansas: A Model Of Innovation

Wichita, Kan., faced a possible crisis: Fifty years of industry had caused groundwater contamination to infiltrate more than 2,000 acres beneath its downtown and nearby residential areas. The contamination which consisted of chlorinated solvents, such as perchloroethene and trichloroethene, created a do-mino effect, causing a real estate deadlock and impending economic crisis in the city's downtown business district.

More than 8,000 parcels of land, including 550 businesses in populated commercial and residential areas, were affected.

To add insult to injury, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was scheduling to place the Gilbert-Mosley site - named after two area cross streets - on the Superfund list. Knowing that keeping this site off the list would save money and time while remedying the economic and perceived public health problem, Wichita scrambled to find an alternative.

The solution was a unique Corrective Action Decision - Kansas' equivalent to the EPA's Record of Decision, which outlines the approved action to be taken at the site, dictates how clean a site must be and specifies the technologies to be used during remediation. The decision's measures reduced the enormous costs and reportedly eliminated the technically unfeasible remedies that are usually associated with cleaning up a Super-fund site.

"By using an alternative cleanup level versus the typically mandated drinking water standards, the amount of groundwater requiring treatment was reduced by 50 percent," said Roger Olsen, project manager for Camp Dresser & Mc-Kee (CDM), Cambridge, Mass., who helped conduct a remedial investigation/feasibility study for the site.

"Containing contamination at the edge of the plume, instead of fully restoring groundwater within the plume, will save Wichita $2 million in capital costs and $400,000 per year in operations and maintenance costs," he predicted.

Also, the proposed use of in situ bioremediation and zero valence iron walls instead of traditional pump-and-treat technology, will eliminate most extraction wells, pipelines and above-ground facilities, potentially saving additional money.

The corrective action decision requires the reuse of treated water to address disposal needs and the area's limited water resources. In addition, Wichita developed unique incentives for area businesses, including a specialized cleanup cost allocation formula and a lender liability/release program, instead of the strict liability usually enforced in the Superfund process. Such incentives helped earn public approval and alleviated the real estate deadlock.

The ground-breaking proposed plan, developed with all parties, was approved by EPA Region VII and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Never before had Kansas approved the use of Alternative Cleanup Levels, containment and institutional controls.

Communication and public information was key to ensuring community support and involvement in the approval and decision making process. Meetings with a Ground-water Committee, a Citizen Technical Advisory Committee and the public kept citizens involved and informed.

Wichita's development and negotiation of alternate cleanup levels, containment of groundwater contaminants and use of alternative remediation technologies saved the city an estimated $8 million and revitalized the business and real estate markets.

Wichita's success with these standards will make it a model for similar cleanups in other communities.