CAMDENTON - The Missouri Department of Natural Resources recommended an old manufacturer in Camdenton as a Superfund site.
Money will be used to clean up the toxic waste at this manufacturer. DNR said it will continue to investigate the site to determine how contaminated it is.
At almost the southernmost point of the Lake of the Ozarks sits a town of nearly 4,000. Camdenton, Missouri is a small lake town known for its state park filled with castle ruins and one of the most scenic caves in the United States, and most concerning for residents, TCE, or Trichloroethylene contamination.
TCE can be found in soil, water and air. And it has been found in Camdenton, Missouri, according to Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
While state officials have said everything is safe, they have also opened up numerous investigations where the chemical was used. Residents are concerned, and they believe loved ones are getting sick and dying from this contamination.
A few manufacturers in Camdenton used TCE from the 70's to December 1990 to get rid of grease from metal parts, without knowing the health effects. As a result, employees were in contact with it a lot.
Workers at these manufacturers dumped TCE, or sludge it’s also called, on the ground when they finished using it.
And that’s not exclusive to Camdenton. TCE was commonly used before it’s health effects were known.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry said, “That contact -- and therefore that exposure -- can occur when you breathe, eat, or drink the contaminant, or when it touches your skin.”
However, the agency said, “Even if you're exposed to trichloroethylene, you might not be harmed. Whether you are harmed will depend on such factors as the dose (how much), the duration (how long), and how you are exposed. Harm might also depend on whether you've been exposed to any other chemicals, as well as your age, sex, diet, family traits, lifestyle, and state of health.”
TCE is a colorless liquid with a sweet smell.
There are four different properties in question for TCE contamination in Camdenton: 221 Sunset Drive, the Hulett Lagoon or Mulberry Well, Dawson Metal Products Camdenton Facility #2 Site and Camdenton Sludge Disposal Area Site. For continuity purposes, we have referred to properties as DNR refers to them.
“Would I say people are in danger? Yes,” Jerry Rogers, former employee of all three companies said, “Most of the early years, we used it indiscriminately.”
“We had a tremendous amount of oil that we operated with inside the plant on our machine operations, and the cleaning agent we used was Trichloroethylene.” Rogers said. “We used Trichloroethylene to clean oil for anything … We washed our hands in it, we cleaned the equipment’s with it, if we had a spill, we mopped it up with TCE.”
“I don’t know why the city is not up in arms about it, as we the community are,” Rogers added.
Camdenton City Administrator Jeff Hancock said, “From the city’s standpoint of water pollution and contamination, we are not worried whatsoever.”
DNR Superfund Chief Valerie Wilder said there is not any contamination in Camdenton's drinking water and there is nothing that residents should be concerned about currently. However, she said if she were a Camdenton resident, she would keep an eye on the upcoming investigations to see the results.
The wells were monitored for many years on a quarterly basis and since 2010, annually. “No TCE has been detected in those wells," Wilder said.
According to documents obtained from DNR, what Wilder said has not always been true. TCE was detected in the wells. The Mulberry Well was taken offline because it had traces of TCE. DNR documents state the Hulett Lagoon was decommissioned, or taken offline, in 1998. The city administrator says it was officially taken offline in 1999.
221 Sunset Drive
One property currently under investigation, according to DNR, is 221 Sunset Drive where three different companies operated at one facility from 1967 to 2012. Dawson Metal Product, Sundstrand Tubular Products Inc., and Modine Heat Transfer Inc.
Rogers lived through each company change and each TCE hand wash, “I went to work February of 1972 and finished employment the day it closed March 30, 2012,” Rogers said. “I was a supervisor for 34 years. Virtually everyone that worked there worked for me.”
According to an October report, DNR said, “Investigations conducted at the facility and in the surrounding neighborhood have documented TCE contamination.”
In the past, there have been efforts to clean up the facility from any contamination.
DNR said investigations for potential sources of contamination are still continuing with some further investigations planning to take place in early 2018.
DNR is also conducting an investigation within nearby residential areas. Currently, it is in the process of taking indoor air samples from 24 homes in the area. “Because temperature and other seasonal changes can impact the movement of TCE vapors, quarterly indoor air sampling was/is being conducted to ensure TCE concentrations are below certain levels in each season before the indoor air is determined to be protective of human health.”
According to DNR’s results from that investigation, 20 homes were completely tested (four homes still remain under investigation). Of those 20 homes, two required mitigation system installation because of TCE vapors at concerning levels.
Here’s what Modine said about it’s use of TCE, “"While Modine has not operated in Camdenton since 2012, we greatly value the relationships we established during our time in the community. Although Modine never used Trichloroethylene (TCE) at Camdenton after acquiring the facility in 1990, we are committed to helping the community achieve peace of mind. That is why we continue to cooperate fully with and support the work of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as it addresses TCE in Camdenton."
The investigation is ongoing.
Hulett Lagoon/Mulberry Well
The City of Camdenton operated the Hulett Lagoon from 1961 to 1989. According to DNR, during this span of time, this lagoon received wastewater with TCE from the Sunset Drive facility.
Hancock admitted the well ran again in February 1999, after it was taken offline.
He also said, “Because the levels were beginning to move up, the city built a brand new well and closed Mulberry Well.”
Not according to DNR documents.
DNR said, “In February 1998, TCE above the drinking-water standard was detected in the Mulberry Well, located about 600 feet southeast of the Sunset Drive facility and 1,000 feet south of the former Hulett Lagoon. Due to the TCE contamination, the city officially took the Mulberry Well offline in January 1999. The Mulberry Well is no longer connected to the city's water supply system and is not used for drinking water."
“The city currently operates the well to remove TCE from the groundwater and contain the spread of contamination. The department regularly tests the public water system that provides drinking water to this area and has not detected TCE concentrations in excess of health standards,” DNR added.
DNR found TCE above the drinking-water standard in February 1998, but the city didn’t take the well offline until January 1999. 13 months. KOMU 8 News asked the city why it waited 13 months to stop using the Mulberry Well.
DNR also found TCE in the soil and groundwater in and around the Hulett Lagoon in 1998 and 1999. However, DNR states the TCE that was in the soil at the time was limited to the area “within the footprint of the former lagoon.”
Once again, DNR said they plan to conduct further investigations.
“The city will continue pumping the Mulberry Well to extract and treat groundwater in the area. Further investigations will be conducted to determine whether the contamination poses risks to human health or the environment and to identify long-term cleanup options,” DNR added.
A 2003 investigation found TCE and DCE concentrations above detection limits, “in one soil boring at about 9 feet below ground surface.” It also found, “Laboratory analysis identified TCE and DCE in several monitoring wells above detection limits.”
However, that same investigation also states, “based upon the presence of impacted soils in very limited, isolated areas, the minimal potential exposure to humans…leaching into groundwater at levels above regulatory limits, the need for soil remedial activities does not appear to be warranted.”
So, nothing was done to fix the TCE in the soil, but DNR says, once again, the investigation is ongoing.
Dawson Metal Products Camdenton Facility #2 Site
Sunset Drive initially housed Dawson Metal Products, but there was a fire in 1972 that forced them to temporarily relocate to another building in Camdenton. DNR said this building was known as the Cox building; it is located at 1225 US Highway 54 in Camdenton.
In October 2017, DNR found TCE in 14 of the 23 soil samples it collected. It said surface exposure does not pose any risk to human health. DNR said it will conduct further sampling to understand the full extent of the contamination.
During the same time frame, DNR also investigated the air surrounding and inside the facility. TCE was not detected in the outdoor air. TCE was detected in several of the indoor air samples. Indoor air samples do not exceed “health-based action levels.”
An Associated Press story that was printed during the time the Dawson Manufacturing Company owned the plant said, “A fire started at the Camdenton plant of the Dawson Manufacturing Company about midnight yesterday and several hundred persons were evacuated from the area because of the threat of poisonous gas from the fire. Authorities said the threat was caused by the burning of trichloroethylene at the plant, which produces air-conditioner parts.”
“In the summer of 72 is when we had the fire.” Rogers said. “I was working the night of the fire… after that night we spent a week cleaning up the Sunset Drive to the best of our ability.”
Rogers said employees cleaned using TCE without any protective gear.
At the new building, a former employee admitted to improperly disposing of the sludge waste and “just dumping it out the back door” when he worked there.
Rogers said after the fire, “We moved part of our operation over to, what’s being called by DNR, site #2. Over at that facility we took care of the final clean and pack out of assemblies that we sent to Chrysler, but we had no degreaser to degrease the parts, so what we did was split a 55 gallon barrel in half and filled a half of a barrel with cold trichlor and that became out first rinse and final rinse.”
Rogers also said the barrels were dumped out the back door, “on a daily basis, shift-ly basis. We brought the chemicals in one door and dumped them out the back door.”
Rogers said. “We cleaned those (Chrysler) parts by hand and we also had no ventilation system in that facility.”
DNR said, it “conducted sampling during the first week of October 2017. The department sampled soil, indoor air, sub-slab vapor, springs and private drinking water wells to determine whether past disposal activities pose risks to human health or the environment. The department will update the public about this investigation once results are finalized.”
Once again, the investigation is ongoing.
Camdenton Sludge Disposal Area Site
According to DNR, The City of Camdenton closed Hulett Lagoon in 1999, and the city said it got rid of the sludge at the Camdenton Memorial Airport. The city said it had permission to do this through a permitted land application.
DNR stated, “The department conducted an investigation in 1999 and did not detect TCE in soil or sludge samples or in water samples from three private wells in the area.”
DNR said it received concerns from citizens about this site and the possibility of other sites as well where the sludge was dumped. DNR said it has not found any other sludge disposal sites from the Hulett Lagoon.
“As a measure of caution, the department sampled additional private drinking water wells within one-half mile of the sludge disposal area during the first week in October 2017. The department will update the public about this investigation once results are finalized,” DNR added.
Once again, the investigation is ongoing.
According to DNR, “Long-term exposure to TCE can cause potential effects to the immune system and potential increased risk for certain cancers such as kidney, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and liver.”
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry said short-term exposure to TCE can cause headaches, dizziness and sleepiness. Large amounts can cause coma and death.
The city administrator was unaware of the health effects from TCE. “But the city is concerned of the health and well-being of all our citizens of Camdenton,” Hancock said.
“Trichlor headaches were unreal, so we tried to keep as fresh air as we could,” Rogers said. “I’ve seen fellows rub it up and down their arms, and it will kill poison ivy, let me tell you.”
“Some people who breathe high levels of trichloroethylene may develop damage to some of the nerves in the face. Other effects seen in people exposed to high levels of trichloroethylene include evidence of nervous system effects related to hearing, seeing, and balance, changes in the rhythm of the heartbeat, liver damage and evidence of kidney damage,” the agency said.
This hits home for one Camdenton resident. James Gohagan owns a home in Camdenton with his wife, Andrea, and their toddler son James. He says his wife was diagnosed with Lupus after moving to Camdenton.
Gohagan said after they moved to Camdenton, “she had a noticeable drop in energy, especially on rainy days. Those were once our favorite days to hang out and watch movies, but those days were hard for her to get out of bed, thought it might have been a postpartum deal after we had my son for the longest time, then when she started getting a rash on her forehead and got diagnosed with lupus, it was odd because there was no auto immune diseases on ether side of her family.”
After living in Camdenton for seven years, he started looking for answers. “I started digging around, and causes for lupus. My dad worked at Modine for 30 years and he had told stories about them dumping and burying that stuff (TCE) on the parking lot.”
More than 300 signatures are on an online petition waiting for the next step. People from all over the world are writing their stories or their loved ones’ stories explaining how they believe TCE in Camdenton impacted their families.
“My Dad worked for Dawson. Sundstrand... Modine and passed away with Cancer!! I believe this company should have to pay for the lives they destroyed and the lives that are in danger!” - Sandy Shivers of St. Louis.
“Trichloroethylene began affecting our community years ago with many health issues that were shoved under the rug. My daughter got Aplastic Anemia from only drinking water in 1997-98 without being notified it was in our water.” – Rusha Johnson of Orlando.
“I believe there is so much more to this story. Why has taken 20 years to start taking care of this situation? The public needs to know what has happened.” – Joyce Thompson of Lake Ozark.
And there are 75 more comments with similar stories and concerns.
What Happens Now
DNR formed an advisory team, which it describes as a, “community-led team designed to provide a public forum to present and discuss the community’s needs and concerns related to the sites.” James Gohagan and Jerry Rogers were two of the seven selected members to join the team.
Now, it appears to be a waiting game for DNR’s investigation results.
Despite the continued number of investigations, Hancock said, “From the city’s water situation, there isn’t a concern and DNR says there isn’t a concern, period.”
Many residents, former employees and family members have lawyers assisting them with this case.
“I’ve been trying to reach out and get people in so that we can build a legitimate case, which I think we have, but you never know when is enough,” Rogers said. “In order to get our severance we had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I’ve been told non-disclosure agreements brought on by extortion are not really enforceable, but I think there are people afraid that if they say anything, are going to get in trouble.”
As for Rogers, he still has a lot of questions and puzzle pieces to collect about how the contamination has spread and how it was cleaned.
“Was it done correctly? Are there locations that we don’t even know about? That’s part of the reason that we’ve put this committee together is so we can hunt people and make calls.” Rogers said. “It’s kind of like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle, everybody’s got a little piece and until you get enough people together, you can’t see how bad it really is.”