Remediation of a portion of the former B.F. Goodrich site began Tuesday as contractors began the excavation of soil contaminated with benzene and lead.

The work ends months of delay of the project which Michelin USA officials expected to be completed in December of last year.

While Michelin never operated the tire plant, it assumed responsibility for it after a merger with Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Company in 1995. The facility has since been acquired by Allen Kaspar, who, along with his wife Wanda, purchased the building from Michelin for $2.8 million.

Michelin, however, remains under an Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality consent order to remediate the site.

A work plan submitted by Michelin to ODEQ in September of 2006 outlined a plan to remove benzene-contaminated soil from a former “pit site” where underground storage tanks are believed to have leaked benzene into groundwater.

When the former tire plant closed, the tanks were pulled from the pit, according to Angela Brunsman of ODEQ. But, the site was not properly remediated.

Chat was brought in to fill the site after the tanks were removed, according to Erik Johnson, attorney for the City of Miami. The gravel-like substance has since tested “hot” for lead, indicated that the fill material exceeds the state's acceptable level of lead-content.

The discovery of the lead contamination, concerns of an unidentified water source flowing into the pit site and objections raised by the current owners regarding plans to treat contaminated soil on site slowed the launch of Michelin's work plan, according to Johnson.

Allen Kaspar said earlier this year that, after learning that the URS Corporation was planning to treat and dispose contaminated soil on site, he voiced his objections.

URS Corporation is an environmental and engineering firm hired by Michelin to conduct the remediation.

Kaspar said he wanted the material off site - citing the close proximity of a child care center as his leading reason to remove the material.

Johnson said URS has now prepared a work plan which includes the taking of contaminated material to a Tulsa quarry.

Michelin officials say the pit-site remediation will be completed by May 31, barring no unforeseen delays.

Johnson said an injection project, independent of the pit-site project, continues at the former manufacturing site. The pilot project forces dissolved oxygen into a plume of benzene that officials have been monitoring for several years.

Approximately 30 homes sit above the plume, according to ODEQ. State officials say 11 of the residences have been tested for benzene exposure. Of those tested, air quality in crawl spaces and basements in two homes exceed markers that ODEQ officials say indicate the possible need for more testing.

Benzene was first detected in 2000 during routine monitoring conducted by URS Corporation.

Those tests revealed the natural component of petroleum and petroleum-based products had seeped into ground water and is trapped about 14 to 25 feet below the surface between layers of clay and sandstone.

ODEQ officials, the City of Miami and the Kaspars are now waiting for Michelin to release a health assessment for property owners impacted by the plume.

Johnson said he expects remediation to be completed and the health assessment to be in hand by July 1.