CLEVELAND, Ohio – The results of a more detailed environmental study confirm that lingering toxins in the soil, groundwater and air currently render the county’s preferred location for a new jail unsafe, but not necessarily unusable.
A report from Partners Environmental Consulting that was recently released outlines the extent of clean-up and prevention controls that would need to be added and maintained if the county does wish to make 2700 Transport Road the site of a new jail.
Cleveland.com has not yet reviewed the full 338-page report, but an executive summary states that needed remediation includes installing air filtration systems that will eliminate unwanted vapors entering the building, and restricting the use of groundwater at the property.
The report also recommends maintenance and upkeep of engineering controls to prevent exposure to soil toxins by maintaining two feet of clean topsoil, or by using buildings and pavement to cover some of the surface area, and regularly monitoring indoor air.
There will also need to be a risk mitigation plan to protect construction and excavation workers from exposure to any toxins while the new jail is being built, it says.
Jeff Appelbaum, the consultant working with the county on plans to build a new jail, sent a copy of the study to the 12 members of the Justice Center Steering Committee on Tuesday, saying it proves that the site is a viable option for a new jail .
“With the implementation of normal and customary use restrictions and engineering controls, including a typical vapor control system, we are informed that there is no reason why the property cannot obtain the necessary Environmental Covenant under the [Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s VAP program] and be used in a safe and healthful manner for the new Cuyahoga County Corrections Center,” Appelbaum wrote in the email to the committee.
Some members of the oversight committee that pushed for the environmental study after learning the site was once deemed so toxic that the state rejected using it for a prison remained unconvinced. At least for now.
Court of Common Pleas Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan and Public Defender Cullen Sweeney said they haven’t yet had time to read the full report and didn’t want to comment on it without having time to digest the new information. But they said based on the executive summary, they still have many questions.
“Assuming it could be remedied, it’s not clear how much it could cost,” Sweeney said, noting that the report seems to omit price tags for the recommended work. “At a fundamental level, I just wonder about why pick a spot that needs remediation…everything is probably going to need some remediation, but this seems to be a more extensive project.”
Sheehan said he was “just happy to get a copy of it” as the county is forging ahead with a public meeting next week to discuss using the location for a new jail. He said he looks forward to hearing what other “hard questions this community has about this property for the county to even think about putting a jail there.”
The oversight committee has been waiting on the results of the environmental study as well as an independent review of potential renovations to the existing jail before voting on whether to build a new jail and where to place it. It’s unclear when the group could next meet to discuss its options, but the county has promised that will occur before council’s final vote on pending legislation to buy the 2700 Transport Road property and extend a quarter-percent sales tax to pay for a new jail.
The study included dozens of soil, groundwater and air samples to determine what toxins were present at the property and what it would take to clean up for residential use, the official classification for a jail.
Though the report noted that “conditions have improved over time via natural biodegradation” since chemical levels were last measured in 1999, the new results still found concentrations higher than safe standards.
There was evidence of total petroleum hydrocarbons, though the summary did not list which specific chemicals, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons – chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline – in the soil. Benzene was found in the groundwater; its a chemical solvent that can be lethal to humans.
“Results of groundwater analysis showed concentrations of several compounds above the potable use standards, however, it has been established that groundwater in the City of Cleveland is not and will not be used as a drinking water source,” the report said.
It also noted methane levels “exceeding the Lower Explosive Limit,” but said it and other vapors “can be mitigated so intrusion will not occur in any new buildings.” Methane is a product of biodegradation of crude oil and “is not considered a hazardous substance,” the report said.
In his email to committee members, Appelbaum touted a report from the jail project’s mechanical engineer, Osborn Engineering, describing the air handling and monitoring equipment that would be installed at the new jail to filter out any toxins.
“The end result will be that the new Corrections Center ‘will provide better air quality than most residential homes in Cuyahoga County that have properly functioning HVAC equipment but are rarely designed to the same standards,” Appelbaum said, quoting from the report.
The chemicals reflect the property’s past use.
Standard Oil began using the property in 1863 for crude oil distillation, reforming, cracking, alkylation, coking and asphalt production. Though the company started dismantling its facility and discontinued refinery operations in 1966, it continued to produce asphalt for another 15 years before those parcels were regraded in the 1990s.
Then it appears the property was largely unused until Universal Intermodal, Inc., which currently owns the space, took it over in 2005 and “undertook redevelopment activities” in order to use it for its container storage yard business, the report said.
Cleveland.com previously reported on some of that remediation work, which included maintaining 2 feet of clean compacted soil, grading to establish drainage, installation of catch basins and shallow storm sewers, and adding eight inches of thick asphalt pavement in 2005 and 2006 over 22 of the acres.
Much of that work would need to be maintained, the report said.
Mike Dever, the director of the county’s Department of Public Works, said nothing in the environmental study came as a surprise. The county “knew there were going to be issues” with most of the properties they were once considering, he said.
He said his team is continuing to work with consultants to determine what the remediation work might cost, but again stressed that the county always expected to pay some amount for cleanup. More information is expected in coming weeks.
“Right now, I think the report speaks for itself,” Dever said.