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City contracts with company to clean up toxic debris from High St. controlled burn

residents watch a controlled burn of a house on South High Street last Friday.

(Courtesy photo)

The city of Bloomington has contracted with an Indianapolis company to clean up potentially toxic debris that rained down on eastside neighborhoods from a controlled burn last Friday, council member Dave Rollo said.

Environmental Assurance Company, Inc., began cleanup Tuesday afternoon – four days after the Bloomington Fired Department burned a house on South High Street.

While Indiana Department of Energy Management (IDEM) approved the fire department’s plan for the burn, which included removing asbestos, vinyl siding and other toxic materials from the house, lead paint was not mentioned in the approval process.

As the house burned Friday, are residents began noticing paint flakes – some the size of a human hand – raining down on the area. Matt Murphy, who lives a block east and a couple blocks south of the burn site, used over-the-counter test kits to test the flakes for lead. They all tested positive.

“I saw the approval documents, and the approval documents don’t indicate anything about (lead),” Rollo said. “This is an enormous oversight, and I think the permitting process needs to be amended immediately.”

Rollo said he was contacting state officials to create legislation that would make lead paint a consideration in IDEM’s approval process.

“I can’t believe that this was simply not considered,” he said.

Murphy has spearheaded the neighborhood’s response to the issue. He collected and documented samples from around 25 houses in the area and took them to a specialist at IUPUI to be tested. He also mapped out the area affected by the fallout.

Paint flakes collected from a controlled burn of a house on South High Street

“There was sort of a snowfall of paint chips,” Murphy said. “From this point, westward, it kind of marched right up Ruby Lane and down the boulevard toward Bryan Park. And there were chips everywhere.

“I developed just kind of my own homemade map that I threw together that shows what I called kind of the hot zone of the area where it really dropped a lot of debris.”

House Fire Zone Map by Indiana Public Media News on Scribd

The Bryan Park neighborhood is more than a mile west of the burn site.

Rollo said he was disappointed by IDEM’s map of the affected area that was developed during an initial investigation Saturday, and that the city was doing its own assessment of the affected area.

“We have a very cursory view right now of the debris pattern,” Rollo said.

Rollo has also been frustrated by the city’s response to cleaning up the area, where paint flakes remain visible in many yards, sidewalks and culverts.

“I’m very frustrated that we’ve lost a window of opportunity, because the weather looks like rain on Thursday, which means a lot of this particulate is going to be then washed into the soil,” he said.

A city press release Saturday said it had contracted with Servpro to do the environmental cleanup, but Rollo said the company halted work almost immediately, saying an assessment needed to be done, then pulled out of the deal.

Tuesday, the city reached an agreement with EACI to clean the affected area.

Bloomington fire chief Jason Moore said EACI will be partnering with Vet Environmental Enginerering, an environmental monitoring company to monitor the air while the work continue.

“We’re not sure how long it’s going to take, but we’re going to take as long as it needs to do it right,” Moore said.

Rollo says Servpro estimated it would cost between three and five thousand dollars to remediate each affected property.

“That’s secondary to the matter at hand, which is putting things right,” he said. “So, I’m happy Mayor Hamilton has released emergency funds for this.”

Rollo said he requested a separate city council meeting tomorrow night to address the incident, but was told that meeting would not take place.

“(I wanted) to bring everybody up to speed on this and give people the opportunity to as questions,” Rollo said. “Some answers may not be forthcoming … but we should be able to give people the information we have.”

Rollo instead has scheduled a Zoom meeting for Wednesday from 5-6:30 p.m. to listen to concerns and answer any questions he can.

“I’m finding things out from the people that know, (and) the people that know are in the best position to share this information,” Rollo said. “Apparently, the administration has decided not to proceed that way.”

The city has set up a website with information on the burn, safety procedures and how to request remediation. It has also posted flyers in the affected areas.

“Once we know the exact area we’re dealing with, we’ll be focusing more targeted communications with those people,” Moore said.

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