OGDEN -- Blake Wahlen sells business sites to companies that know he is hawking land on an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site.
That is why Wahlen, Boyer Company's general manager of Business Depot Ogden, said he is open and honest about the location's past and efforts to clean it up.
Anyone can see a library full of documents detailing more than 20 years of cleanup work. If they want more studies, or even more test holes dug, he's happy to help.
"We're not environmental experts, but we try to hire people that are environmental experts to say we are OK," he said.
All those experts -- independent labs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality -- say the site, formerly Defense Depot Ogden, is clean and safe.
Because of all those assurances, Wahlen was surprised recently at news reports that workers in one of the few buildings on the base not turned over to civilian use, the Utah National Guard Joint Language Training Center in Building 11C, believe they are sick because of the base's contaminated past.
The Utah National Guard checked Building 11C in 2007 and again in 2010.
In a report last year, National Guard officials said Building 11C is clean and they could find no connection between the base's past contamination and the illnesses the workers have experienced.
Defense Depot Ogden, set up before World War II, was home to dozens of warehouses that maintained, stored and distributed millions of tons of all kinds of military supplies.
The base generated thousands of gallons of chemical waste in the form of solvents, oils and pesticides. It also produced tons of solid waste, both general garbage and items used for chemical warfare.
Much of that waste was buried, burned or dumped on the base, typical practice for the time but something that haunts bases 60 years later.
Defense Depot Ogden was declared a federal Superfund site in 1987. In 1997, the federal government closed DDO and turned the ground over to Ogden city for use as an industrial park.
Cleanup became critical. For health and liability reasons, no company will set up on contaminated ground.
Wahlen said no land was turned over to Ogden for development until 1999, when, section by section, the base was declared safe for transfer. Except for two sites retained by the federal government and currently used by the National Guard, the final sections were turned over in 2003.
Documentation for the cleanup is reviewed when any company puts up a new building, Wahlen said. If necessary, new test holes are dug. He has to prove the land is clean, he said, "because if not, we can't go borrow money on it."
The Utah National Guard tested Building 11C in 2007. It tested the building again in 2010 after receiving a letter from a person who said he and nine others had medical problems they felt might be related to vinyl chloride, the chief contaminant the Army Corps of Engineers has been taking out of groundwater at the base since 1992.
The National Guard had air and water samples from the building independently tested. It looked at past studies, including monitoring wells between the building and a known plume of contaminated water northwest of the building.
The results, in a study dated May 27, 2010, found nothing in the building's air that exceeded dangerous levels. It said data for the wells in a five-year review done in 2001 by the EPA showed either no contaminants or only a trace, well below dangerous levels.
Any chemicals it did find, the study said, were equal to what any American home would have from glues, solvents and cleaning fluids.
The study summary, signed by National Guard State Judge Advocate Lt. Col. Patrick Osmond, concluded, "There is no finding of a cause and effect association, or suggestion of a suspicious disease trend between the contaminants" and people who are sick.
Spokespeople for the EPA and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, entities that monitor the base cleanup, said nobody has shown any link between the people who are sick and where they work.
Dave Allison, the UDEQ's community involvement specialist, said everyone is sympathetic to those who are sick.
But, he said, without evidence of contamination in the building, "no one can explain the unknown reasons for the illnesses of the workers in one office at the JLTC National Guard building. The building was tested more than once, and no chemical levels or exposure pathways were determined."
"We can address what we do know, which is quite a lot, and why the Army, EPA and UDEQ can say there is no reason to believe there are any health risks at the Business Depot," Allison said.
Defense Depot Ogden had massive pollution problems that began in World War II.
Investigators logged 107 potential pollution sites when the base was put on the Superfund list in 1987. Some were areas where thousands of gallons of oil and solvents had been dumped and burned. Others were sites where items such as rubber boots or shoe polish were buried.
Most of the sites needed only inspection and minor cleanup, usually by digging up the contaminated dirt and hauling it away.
But four required a yearslong effort.
Those four sites, designated "operable units," are: a contamination plume north of the Ogden Nature Center; a burial area also north of the nature center; a burn pit and solvent disposal area near the former base headquarters building now occupied by a baseball field; and a large open area on the north edge of the base and north of Building 11C.
In addition to removing tons of soil and debris, at three of the sites, the Army Corps of Engineers installed machinery that sucks up groundwater, separates chemicals from it, then injects the clean water back into the ground.
The water treatment machinery at Operable Unit 1, north of the Ogden Nature Center, started in 1994 and was shut down four years ago.
The Army's environmental coordinator for BDO, Larry McFarland, said the Corps will dismantle it this year because the groundwater contamination level has stayed within safe levels for four years.
Operable Unit 2, the dump north of the Ogden Nature Center, was cleaned up by excavation in 2001.
The water treatment machinery at Operable Unit 3, the baseball field site, ran from 1992 to 1998. Digging and soil treatment went on until 2002, when the EPA determined the area was clean.
Operable Unit 4, at the north end of the base, is the biggest and longest-running cleanup.
The north section of DDO is the location of a series of burn pits and burial sites. Trash, chemicals, solvents, oil waste and other garbage were dumped there. Oils and solvents were set on fire. Sometimes, the garbage was burned to give the base fire department practice.
Those burn pits are the source of the groundwater contamination from that area. Some were in an area the Weber County Fairgrounds now uses for overflow parking.
McFarland said the water is contaminated by vinyl chloride, which is produced when more complex solvents break down in the soil.
Beginning in 1992, tons of contaminated soil were removed. A water-cleaning system, similar to the others on base, started in 1994. It is still running, McFarland said, at a cost of $900,000 a year, pulling contaminated water out of the ground at the center of the plume and injecting clean water at the edges of the plume.
Jim Kiefer, EPA remedial project manager, said the EPA is satisfied that the operable units are doing their job.
OU4 originally sat over a huge plume of contaminated groundwater that, in one area, extended under Building 11C, where the National Guard was working.
"That's really shrunk in size. In 1995, the plume went under the north quarter of the building. Concentrations were 50 micrograms per liter," Kiefer said.
Now the measurement on the outer edge of the plume is 2 micrograms per liter, "and the plume is 500 meters away from the building."
McFarland said the system at OU4 will keep operating until the entire plume is gone. How long that will be, he said, is unknown.
Wahlen said he's confident the work will be successful.
"From our standpoint, the fact that they've gone through and cleaned up this facility, it's a positive thing to the community."