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Contamination found at second Eagle Industries site in Midwest City

Residents sign in during a DEQ and EPA informational meeting regarding the Eagle Industries Superfund in Midwest City, Okla.,  Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Residents sign in during a DEQ and EPA informational meeting regarding the Eagle Industries Superfund in Midwest City, Okla., Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

MIDWEST CITY — Environmental investigators have discovered cancer-causing chemicals in groundwater below property that once belonged to Eagle Industries, a known polluter in Midwest City responsible for a Superfund cleanup site down the street.

The discovery follows a November 2017 report in The Oklahoman that found Eagle employees dumped trichloroethylene at 8826 and 8828 SE 29 St., property now owned by Midwest City. The company's illegal dumping of trichloroethylene, a solvent known as TCE, two miles east at 10901 SE 29 has prompted federal cleanup efforts and may be responsible for cancer deaths in the area.

Following the Oklahoman article, the state Department of Environmental Quality launched an investigation into the second Eagle site and Midwest City paid SCS Engineers $24,681 to test groundwater there. Those tests, which concluded in May, found TCE in three of four test wells, though not in significantly high concentrations, according to a city memorandum made public last week.

City council members hoping to develop the property have voiced frustration at both the city's ownership of contaminated land and press coverage of Eagle's contamination. In December, Councilwoman Susan Eads called the property “a barrel of monkeys” the city was now stuck with.

The next month, Midwest City entered into the brownfields program, a voluntarily federal and state project for investigating and cleaning up incidents of contamination that don't rise to the level of Superfund cleanup.

On Tuesday, the city council was presented with three options: leaving the brownfields program, seeking a certification from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality stating the contamination does not pose a risk to human health, or expanding the scope of groundwater testing. Following the recommendation of Robert Coleman, the city's economic development director, it unanimously chose the second option without debate.

Withdrawing from the brownfields program would leave developers, and their lenders, unsure of the property's viability, Coleman warned the city council. Investigating further also came with risks. As he wrote candidly in a memo, “There is always the risk of finding additional contamination that must be addressed."

So, the city chose a middle ground. It will seek a certificate of no action necessary, a DEQ document that states no environmental work is needed at the site. Because there is a water main near 8828 SE 29, groundwater is not used for drinking water in the area. The use of groundwater for irrigation will be prohibited.

“I would assume we could get this done in the next, I hope, 60 days,” Coleman said in an interview Thursday.

Eagle opened in 1957 as a repairer and reseller of aircraft parts at 8828 SE 29, a lengthy one-story brick building near the Oklahoma City border. It closed decades later and reopened at 10901 SE 29, where employees knowingly and illegally dumped trichloroethylene, according to state investigations.

In 2010, the company closed before it could be forced to pay fines. Cleanup at 10901 SE 29 may require decades of work and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. An underground plume of toxic chemicals continues to move south of that site, polluting the groundwater below homes and businesses.

As for 8826-8828 SE 29, a DEQ certificate of no action necessary is far from a guarantee of development. As Coleman noted in his memorandum to the city council, lenders “may not be comfortable lending on a property neighboring a site with known environmental issues, especially near Tinker Air Force Base,” which has a host of its own environmental issues. Still, the city is trying.

“We are actively seeking (development) and it will be retail or restaurant use,” Coleman said in an interview. “I don't envision anybody wanting it for any type of housing and we wouldn't want that anyway. I don't think we would want any type of industrial out there. So, we're going to focus on retail and restaurant recruitment.”

Justin Wingerter

Justin Wingerter is the federal government reporter for The Oklahoman, covering the state’s congressional delegation, Oklahomans in Washington and the effect of the federal government on Oklahoma.... Read more ›