Senator Donnelly calls on governor to push for EPA takeover in Franklin

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Tough talk from Governor Eric Holcomb and Senator Joe Donnelly.

It all comes after Donnelly called for a complete takeover of the contamination investigation in Franklin.

Donnelly wants the governor to pull out his state agency and let the EPA take charge.

13 Investigates caught up with the governor, who says the efforts to identify toxins in neighborhoods shouldn't be a "one or the other" type proposition. But Donnelly says the governor should give the EPA full control to help resolve an "incredibly heartbreaking problem": Sick children and a toxic environment.

"Today I want to call on Governor Holcomb to step up and ask the EPA to take over the investigation," said Donnelly kicking off a press conference in his Indianapolis office Monday morning.

For the first time, the push for a federal takeover of the investigation into toxins migrating into Franklin neighborhoods landed in the governor's office.

Senator Donnelly and a group of mothers advocating for children there want state level regulators to step aside and allow the EPA to take charge.

The governor can make that request.

"For decades those volatiles have been poisoning our kids," said Stacie Davidson who believes the number of sick children is no coincidence.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) plans to conduct a health risk study to see if the environmental toxins can be directly linked to exposures in Franklin and whether those exposures could make both children and adults sick.

13 Investigates first discovered a link between the sick children and the city of Franklin in 2015.

Davidson's, step son Zane is in remission from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Kari Rhinehart's daughter Emma Grace died from glioblastoma, a rare brain cancer.

Nearly 50 other children have been diagnosed with cancer since 2009. Several of those children have died as well.

The mothers started the group "If It Was Your Child" and have been searching for answers for years.

"These contaminates have been found in multiple locations around the city, far beyond what the EPA is testing for right now," explained Rinehart.

Right now the EPA only oversees the investigation and cleanup associated with the Amphenol site, which is under the federal government's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act program known as RCRA.

The other locations where TCE and PCE have been detected fall under the state's jurisdiction.

On November 28, the EPA confirmed plumes of the known carcinogens TCE and PCE had migrated from the old Amphenol plant and into the paths of homes.

Even more troubling, 13 Investigates exposed a report sent to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management showing TCE was migrating into that same area back in 2013.

The EPA can't say IDEM ever notified them of that report.

"If it is something that we missed on both sides, on behalf of the agency I'm sorry for that," said Joe Cisneros, a U.S. EPA Region 5 director that oversees Indiana and the Amphenol investigation. "We're here now," he said.

We took our findings to the governor himself.

"This report went to IDEM and they did nothing," explained 13 Investigates Reporter Sandra Chapman.

"I would take a little exception with doing nothing," said Holcomb. "We have been doing the sampling, we have been doing the research, we have been doing the testing," he said.

"IDEM only started testing after an outside organization from New Jersey came in," Chapman continued, speaking of the Edison Wetlands Association that did the first round of air vapor testing in Franklin in June. "They weren't testing in 2013," Chapman said of IDEM.

"We have been testing. Currently we are testing," insisted the governor, emphasizing the current activity.

IDEM conducted water testing in 2015, after 13 Investigates reported on the Webb Wellfield and three contaminated wells that had been shut down by Indiana American Water. Indiana American Water had used the wells as part of its drinking water supply for the city of Franklin.

As for Donnelly's call for an EPA takeover, "It needs to happen now," said Donnelly.

The governor fired back.

"It's not time we start doing something, we've been taking this seriously for my entire tenure as governor," Holcomb responded. "We're never going to walk away from the not knowing what the true cause of these previous deaths were. We're going to be at this with our federal partners, each and every day," he said emphatically.