Retired Kokomo pharmacist Don Moore doesn’t think he could have picked a better spot for the drug store he ran for more than 40 years.

Sitting along the commercial hub of Markland Avenue, convenient to all of the near southside and westside neighborhoods, the Moore Pharmacy survived burning to the ground in a 1974 lightning strike and the arrival of national chain stores in Kokomo.

“We really had one of the best drug stores in Indiana, and one of the first to be computerized,” the 79-year-old said recently. “That was a good location. The people were friendly. I made some really good friends and had some really good customers. At the end [of Moore’s ownership], we had 55 people on staff and five pharmacists.”

The irony is that while Moore built a strong business foundation in Kokomo, his store, in all likelihood, sits on contaminated slag from the former Continental Steel Corp.

A 1938 aerial photograph of the block bounded by Markland and Courtland avenues, and Brandon and Harrison streets, shows the open water of an abandoned limestone quarry pit filling nearly the entire block.

Jack Baxter, a retired Continental supervisor, said he believes Continental began using the quarry as a slag disposal site shortly after the 1938 aerial was taken.

“Continental did begin to dump in there around 1940,” Baxter recalled. “Continental has filled in more than half of what the quarry used to be.”

Baxter said some of the Moore store property sat on land that was never excavated. But some of it, he said, almost certainly sits on slag fill.

A rail line took side-dumping rail cars from Continental’s open hearth furnaces over Markland Avenue and north to the quarry.

Bit by bit, year after year, Continental work crews kept moving the terminus of the tracks at the quarry further northward, Baxter said.

By 1972, aerial photos showed the open-water portion of the old quarry had shrunk to about half of its original surface area. By then, Continental had apparently begun dumping slag elsewhere.

And by 1986, shortly after Continental declared bankruptcy and shut its gates, an environmental investigation had begun at the quarry site.

Four years later, an emergency remedial action removed hundreds of drums from the contaminated quarry.

The cleanup didn’t, however, address the water of the quarry, which a 1995 environmental report, prepared on behalf of Moore’s drug store, called a “window into the limestone aquifer.”

The alkaline water, which has since been drained and treated, was once so contaminated it measured between 12 and 13 on a pH scale. Pure water measures a neutral score of 7 on the pH scale, which ranges from 0 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline).

Jessica Fliss, a project manager with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said groundwater remediation at the quarry site could begin this year.

A large portion of the quarry was backfilled with slag, refractory brick, pig iron, baghouse dust (smokestack pollutants), and waste drums, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report from 1997 states.

The drums contained mostly “oils, solvents and other refuse,” the report notes, saying that from 1990 to 1991, the EPA removed hundreds of drums from around the rim of the quarry pit, more than 1,100 drums from the water itself, and excavated areas of PCB-contaminated soil.

Then in 2008, the decision was made to completely empty the quarry of its poisoned water, and to excavate contaminated soils from the bottom and sides of the pit. That work finished last year, and now the pit sits almost half-filled with clean fill dirt from a westside drainage project.

More than $5 million has been spent cleaning up the quarry pit, despite the fact that very little investigation has been performed on the filled-in eastern portion of the former pit.

Environmental officials attempted to gain permission to perform soil gas surveys underneath the Moore properties (which are now leased to CVS Pharmacy), but were denied, according to the 1997 report.

Despite the lack of borings under the Moore properties, Fliss said, it is believed that most of the pollution was concentrated in the southwest corner of the quarry. Contaminated surface oils, which had to be excavated along the rim of the existing quarry pit, wouldn’t be a problem where buildings and asphalt cap the soil, she added.

Marsh Supermarkets was the first company to build on the site, building a complex in 1954, and renting part of it out to Moore’s Rexall Drug Store.

In 1974, after Moore’s burned down, Marsh wanted to move its location to Maple Crest Shopping Plaza, so Moore was able to purchase and move into the Marsh store. That building still stands, at the northwest corner of Courtland and Markland. The former Moore’s location became home to a new Village Pantry.

Baxter said he isn’t surprised Marsh was allowed to build on slag fill. He said numerous structures in and around Kokomo probably are built on Continental slag.

“Oh my God, you couldn’t find anything more solid than slag,” Baxter said. “For a while there, if you were building a house, Continental would just give it to you.

“It’s the only material you could fill a 20-foot hole with, and then immediately drive a dump truck across it. It was extremely heavy, with a lot of steel in it. You could fill a 5-gallon bucket with it, and I don’t know if you could carry it.”

Still, Moore’s proximity to the quarry, coupled with the knowledge that the EPA had placed the quarry on the national Superfund list, was enough to cause concern.

In 1995, Moore’s sought a covenant from IDEM, similar to one already granted to nearby Syndicate Sales, which would promise that the property owners wouldn’t be held liable for cleanup costs.

Engineers hired by Moore’s bored several holes on the northwest corner of the 1.35-acre drug store property, and the borings indicated that portion of the property was sitting on slag. They didn’t bore any holes where the parking lot now sits.

“Although the exact boundaries of the former pit area are unknown, these borings suggest it extended on to the property,” the 1995 Moore’s study concluded.

“The only photograph which may show the pit on-site is the 1938 photo, and its scale precludes a definitive answer,” the study added.

The authors of the 1995 study apparently chose not to include the 1938 aerial among the numerous diagrams and aerial photographs of the store site.

Fifteen years later, however, there’s no discussion of any action being taken, either to excavate any of the remaining fill, or to hold any local property owners liable for any cleanup costs.

Fliss said plans are in place to draw shallow groundwater from the quarry site and to pump it to the Kokomo Wastewater Treatment Plant. IDEM officials are awaiting test results to see if the groundwater can be safely treated at the wastewater plant, she said.

As for the deeper groundwater, which environmental officials believe to be contaminated, there’s not much that can be done. It lies in fissures in the limestone bedrock, Fliss said.

“It’s pretty deep, and that’s going to be monitored,” she said. “Over time, it should naturally [dissipate]. Organic chemicals, over time, naturally break down, and we’re going to monitor it, just to make sure it is breaking down.”

• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via e-mail at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com

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