Site Of Old Chemical Fire Nearing Legal Conclusion In Beavercreek

Feb 17, 2014

A photo of the 1969 fire in Beavercreek.
A photo of the 1969 fire in Beavercreek.
Credit Beavercreeksfinest.com

A federal court has issued a decision in a decades-old case about Lammers Barrel Factory, a pollution site in Beavercreek. A list of thirty-seven companies have agreed to clean up the vacant lot, which was contaminated sometime in the 1950s or 1960s with volatile organic compounds, which can be toxic if consumed through drinking water or vapor intrusion.

Lammers Barrel Factory, a chemical recycling facility on Grange Hall Road at the corner of East Patterson, has a fiery history: it actually caught fire in 1969. Barrels of chemicals exploded, and residents described some of them as flying hundreds of feet into the air. The fire was visible for miles and left almost nothing on the site.

“That’s been a headache that drove me crazy for thirty years, I think,” says Helen Gorby, who purchased the parcel of land in the 1970s without being aware that there were still chemicals there.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got involved in 1985, and found that somewhere in the site’s industrial history, chemicals that can be damaging to humans and ecosystems had seeped into the soil and groundwater. The EPA has been seeking remediation on the site ever since, and over the years the agency has worked with companies implicated in the case to pipe in county water for a number of nearby homes. It became a Superfund site, which means it is a top priority for cleanup, in 2002.

Still, tracking down the companies that might be responsible and proving they are liable is real detective work after so long. The barrel company went bankrupt, but at least 41 companies that are still around today might have sent their toxic chemicals there to be processed in the 50s and 60s.

Now, 37 of those companies, including Ford, Navistar, General Electric and 3M, have made a deal in a federal court saying they’ll help pay for a cleanup, and General Motors made a payout for those costs as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.  

The costs are expected to total over $13 million including payment for actions already taken, and a smaller group of companies will take the lead in hiring consultants to carry out further remedies. Those will probably include treating the soil and water, and then monitoring the site’s safety into the future.

The Lammers Barrel Fill consent decree is up for public comment until March 12, and Gorby is actually listed as a defendant in the case although she’s not one of the parties who’s agreeing to pay for the cleanup. She says allying herself legally with the potentially responsible companies was the best way to keep from ending up liable for something she believes she had nothing to do with.

“I’m as confused as anybody in this world could be,” says Gorby.

Several companies involved in the case, as well as the city of Beavercreek, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.