Office of Inspector General in Washington asked to oversee Franklin investigation


FRANKLIN, Ind. (WTHR) — There are new calls for a federal investigation over the handling of toxins in Franklin.

A high profile environmental group said the EPA has failed to take proper and timely action to safeguard human health and the environment.

The call comes as the New York Times reports on the politics of the clean up.

A 30-page complaint from the Edison Wetlands Association to the acting inspector general in Washington D.C. cites mismanagement and delays as the basis of its request for an oversight investigation by OIG's office. According to EWA, a similar probe was conducted during the Flint, Michigan water crisis following a lax government response in that city.

Edison Wetlands came to Indiana in June 2018, and did what state and federal agencies failed to do for years: conduct the first round of vapor intrusion testing in the city of Franklin. The New Jersey not-for-profit said the discovery of high levels of cancer causing vapors and spreading groundwater contamination should have been addressed long before now.

"This is an ongoing problem," EWA Executive Director Bob Spiegel said during his last follow-up visit to Franklin.

In its request, EWA and the Indiana moms advocating for dozens of sick children said the Amphenol site is "still dangerous" and fell "off the radar" at the EPA.

Just months ago, 13 Investigates exposed documents showing state regulators were warned about the cancer causing chemical TCE migrating into a neighborhood near the site. Neither the Indiana Department of Environmental Management nor the EPA took specific action to stop it.

"If it is something that we missed on both sides, on behalf of the agency I'm sorry for that," said Joe Cisneros, EPA Region 5 Section chief. Cisneros told 13 Investigates he can't say if Indiana regulators ever notified his office about the seeping chemicals.

Testing last fall uncovered TCE levels in the same area near Hamilton and Forsythe Streets more than 252 times above the acceptable screening levels in the sewer backfill. The EPA admits that and other plumes of cancer-causing chemicals have spread off site through the groundwater and sewers.

That discovery led former U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D) Indiana to call on Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R) to turn over all aspects of the investigation to the federal government. Holcomb declined.

"We're on the ground, and the EPA is helping us and so it will be a partnership," Holcomb told 13 Investigates in response to Donnelly's request.

Now, Stacie Davidson and Kari Rhinehart say they want the Acting EPA Inspector General to ensure accountability and timeliness for the clean up.

Their concerns are making headlines among national media. The New York Times published an article Thursday about the plight in Franklin amid the Trump administrations environmental policies.

13 Investigates reached out to EPA Region 5 in Chicago. No one was available for comment due to the government shutdown.

A spokesman from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management acknowledged representatives at the agency have received copies of the letter to the Acting Inspector General and said the complaint will be reviewed.

Davidson and Rhinehart said they are also concerned the scheduled winter vapor testing by the EPA will be delayed with government workers off the job.

See the entire statement from the not for profit If It Was Your Child:

"While the EPA has been overseeing the Amphenol investigation, the past discrepancies and holes in documentation have not been lost or forgotten.

As parents and community members, our entire goal is to find the whole groundwater plume, as well as the entirety of the contamination, being via air, soil, water and/or a combination of both. By contacting the Inspector General, we are doing our diligence by making sure the appropriate parties are aware, accountable and taking responsibility. After all, the more time we take, the more residents are becoming sick and losing their battles. We need all parties involved and on the same page to effectively remedy the contamination that was done decades ago."