Cochran: Underground Polytech storage tanks removed in 1990s but file not closed by MDNR

Dave Marner
Managing Editor

A “Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment” completed for the city on June 8 by Cochran Engineering noted the possibility that contaminates are located on the former Polytech site, a 5.4-acre tract of land the city now owns and wants to use to build a new police station.

The main problem discovered during the assessment is that although two underground storage tanks were removed from the site, the removal process was never properly closed — read documented — by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. It appears the city may have dropped the ball in the late 1990s by not completing paperwork requested by the MDNR.

The site, which was undeveloped until the 1940s, was later occupied by DFR Shoe Company until 1949, according to the report. The eastern portion of the site was home to Polytech Industries, a plexi-glass manufacturing company, “from the 1960s until 1989 when a fire destroyed the facility for the second time and the facility was demolished.”

The fire took place July 22, 1988, and destroyed an estimated 90 to 95 percent of the facility which produced “acrylic plastic sheets for industrial and military uses,” according to a report in The Republican following the 4-alarm blaze which occurred at 2 a.m. and forced the evacuation of nearby residences.

“This assessment has revealed evidence of a recognized environmental condition (REC) connected with the subject property,” Cochran’s report notes.

The site contained one 6,000 gallon oil tank and one 6,000 gallon tank containing methyl methacrylate — a component used in the production of the plastic sheeting.  Both tanks were removed from the site in 1991 but, as the Cochran report noted,there are no records available that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources signed off on the removal of those tanks.

A February 1973 fire also damaged the facility, according to reports published in The Republican.

City records reviewed by Cochran for the site assessment indicate the city did receive an Aug. 14, 1998, letter from the MDNR noting “the records for the site has been updated and the tanks at this site are listed as removed.”

However, the Cochran report goes on to note “MDNR indicated that closure records are not available for the site.”  The assessment goes on to note: “However, MDNR indicated the site is subject to a site assessment. The final closure letter for this site will not be issued until a site assessment is conducted and a site assessment report is received and reviewed by (MDNR).”

The Cochran report concludes, based on records received from MDNR, “it appears MDNR did not receive the information requested in their Aug. 14, 1998, letter (to the city engineer) and a ‘No Further Action’ letter has not been issued by MDNR for this site.”

In essence, the MDNR never signed off on the removal of the underground tanks.

“In our opinion and based on our experience at similar sites,” Cochran’s investigator notes, “the potential exists for releases of hydrocarbons to have occurred within the groundwater and/or soil.”

City records studied in Cochran’s assessment indicate Wesley Michel, the city’s mayor at the time of the fire, received a letter from Polytech dated Feb. 13, 1989, which stated the fire caused an electrical transformer to fall and discharge oil at the site. Cochran’s report notes it is “unknown if the oil released from the transformer which fell during the fire contained PCBs.”

In cases where a potentially hazardous spill or leak occurs, agencies which regulate such incidents seek documentation of what is called a “controlled recognized environmental condition” and that clean-up efforts are “remediated in accord and under the supervision of authorized government agency” responsible for “oversite” of “such recognized environmental condition.”

According to the Cochran study of the former Polytech site, “This assessment has not revealed evidence of controlled recognized environmental conditions connected with the subject property.”

Cochran’s report concludes the site has a prior “recognized environmental condition” (REC) present but that it has not been resolved, or “adequately addressed,” for it to be termed a “historical REC (HREC) and, therefore, no longer represents a REC.”

The report did, however, note the “assessment has not revealed evidence of recognized environmental conditions connected with the property.” Neither did the firm report any evidence of “historical RECs” in their assessment.

City officials have submitted an application for state funding to cover the costs of any potential remediation clean-up if hazardous materials such as PCBs are detected in the groundwater or soil on the eastern portion of the site where Polytech once manufactured acrylic sheeting (see related story).