Anyone new to Kokomo might wonder why a 10-acre bit of green space is sitting unused and fenced off in the 400 block of South Washington Street.
Located next to a new $1.3 million trailhead area the city just installed along the Wildcat Creek, and across Washington Street from Foster Park, the site — a filled-in former quarry — seems to have commercial or recreational potential.
City officials definitely think so, and are moving ahead with plans to acquire the brownfield site.
“Rather than have a grass lot site there, if there’s a way to potentially redevelop it in the future, and we could assist, and make sure the environmental issues had been remediated, it could be something good for the city,” Kokomo city attorney Lawrence McCormack said.
For decades, environmental issues have been the main drawback to developing the site, which was a former dumping ground for Union Carbide’s Stellite division until 1970.
Cabot Corp., which took over the property after 1970, excavated about 400 barrels of hazardous waste back in 1989. During that excavation, a barrel ruptured, sending a plume of gas 40 feet into the air.
Witnesses said it smelled like rotten eggs, and later analysis suggested the barrel contained hydrofluoric acid, which reacted with sulfide-contaminated soil to create a toxic plume of hydrogen sulfide gas.
The Kokomo Fire Department hazardous materials team was mobilized, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, workers on-site and potentially thousands of neighbors living to the northeast of the site were exposed to the gas.
Cabot also did some research, and told state environmental officials they’d “uncovered enough information to suggest that drums of radioactive waste may have indeed been buried in the quarry in the late 1960s or as late as 1970.”
Under a cleanup license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, most of the waste, including all of the barrels, was excavated from the site, but some 55 tons of old grinding wheels, contaminated with what Cabot officials called “naturally occurring radioactive material” are still buried there.