MIDWEST CITY, Okla. (AP) — As the Environmental Protection Agency considers whether a site contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals is one of the nation's worst, development continues unabated behind it and a large land sale has occurred across the street.
The stark contrast between contamination and nearby construction has jolted nearby residents and concerned citizens, prompting inquiries to city offices. Midwest City has largely deferred to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, which has frustrated at least one city councilman, The Oklahoman reported.
The trichloroethylene that Eagle Industries employees dumped at 10901 SE 29 St. has largely moved on, migrating through groundwater to the southwest, where it is expected to threaten homes and businesses for years to come. EPA cleanup could last a decade or longer. It is being considered for a national priorities list of Superfund sites.
Meanwhile, a middle-class development, Turtlewood, has thrived to the north and is expanding to the west and northwest of the former Eagle site. Concerned residents have posted photos of construction at Turtlewood on social media and asked whether, considering the contamination nearby, development is appropriate.
HomeCreations, which is building the subdivision, says it is.
"Our community is located north of the Eagle Industries site and is connected to and uses water provided by the City of Midwest City, therefore it does not rely on groundwater," said John Burris, an associate sales director. "Given that information, we do not believe the contamination will have any effect on our neighborhood. However, we are continuing to monitor the situation."
For at least 15 years, Eagle employees illegally dumped cancer-causing toxins directly onto the ground at 10901 SE 29 St., according to state investigators. An Oklahoman investigation found the troubled company routinely skirted environmental laws but never paid a fine. It closed its doors in 2010.
A second Oklahoman article revealed Eagle may have also polluted a site two miles west at 8828 SE 29 St. with trichloroethylene, beginning as early as the 1950s. The site was previously found to have radiation. DEQ has since launched an investigation.
The City of Midwest City, which declined requests for comment before the second article was published, has worked to keep up with the fray. In a Facebook post, the city manager's office called the article "factual in many respects" but one-sided. It said the city was aware of radiation at 8828 but unaware TCE could be there before being told by the newspaper.
"The article's mention of possible trichloroethylene contamination came as a complete surprise to city staff," the city manager's office wrote Nov. 14.
Elsewhere on Facebook, questions were asked of Sean Reed, a Midwest City councilman. Reed wrote that the city would attempt to get answers from the state but complained that "DEQ does what they want and really answers to no one."
On Nov. 15, Midwest City officials met with DEQ but the city has declined to say what was discussed. Kay Hunt, a city spokeswoman, said the city manager "will be communicating that information with the mayor and city council before any public comment will be made." Councilman Jeff Moore, who represents the area, did not respond to requests for comment.
In another Facebook post Nov. 21, the city manager wrote that "the city has been receiving inquires (sic) about the status of the safety of our residents (sic) drinking water for those either living or building new homes near the closed facility," referring to the Superfund site at 10901 SE 29.
The Facebook post contained a response to citizens' concerns from DEQ.
"Based on the investigations to-date at the Eagle Industries site, ODEQ does not feel that housing developments to the north or west of the site are impacted by the former Eagle Industries facility," it stated. "The main human health concern from the site is contaminated groundwater. Housing developments that have public drinking water would not be exposed to the contamination."
Those housing developments include Turtlewood, billed as a "fun, family-friendly community" with easy access to Tinker Air Force Base and Oklahoma City. Three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes there sell for $174,000 to $220,000.
Burris, with HomeCreations, said the company reached out to DEQ after recently learning about contamination at the former Eagle site.
"The safety and integrity of the communities we build in are of the utmost importance to us," he said.
Southeast of the Superfund site is 160 acres of dense woods, listed as agricultural space by the Oklahoma County assessor's office but currently unused. It was purchased by an unknown buyer before it could be auctioned off in 19 tracts on Nov. 8.
Schrader Auction had billed it as "an attractive property" with "gentle topography" and "large, mature timber." The auction house called it an "outstanding opportunity" for residential development, despite being about 600 feet from a Superfund site. Hazardous contamination wasn't mentioned in the 52-page brochure.
Meanwhile, two miles to the west, where DEQ will investigate whether contamination is below the first Eagle site at 8828 SE 29, the city manager's office says it would like to expand commercial development "since it happens to be the last unobstructed property with Interstate 40 frontage that lies within Midwest City limits."