New York, NY -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the second phase of cleanup work will begin this week at the Mercury Refining Superfund site, a former mercury reclamation facility in the towns of Colonie and Guilderland, New York. Soil, sediment and ground water at the site became contaminated with mercury as a result of past operations and waste disposal practices. Exposure to mercury can damage people’s nervous systems and harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune systems. Mercury in soil and sediment can also impact fish and other wildlife. In 2013, the first phase of the cleanup was conducted to remove contaminated surface soil and sediment at the facility and in an unnamed tributary to the Patroon Creek adjacent to the facility. In 2014, the cleanup will target the deeper contaminated soil and ground water. The work is estimated to take three months.
“After a successful first phase of work that removed more than 5,600 tons of mercury-contaminated soil and asphalt from the site, the EPA will work hard to complete the work,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The cleanup activities this summer will ensure that the mercury located deep underground is locked in place so that it will no longer pose a threat to human health and the environment.”
During the cleanup, areas of soil contaminated with mercury will be solidified and stabilized by turning them into a leak-proof solidified mass that extends 60 to 70 feet underground. The process will be done in several steps. It will begin with the clearing of concrete and debris from the surface and the removal of the first seven to eight feet of the surface soil. This material will be sent off-site for disposal at a licensed facility. Toxic pollutants further underground will be treated by mixing the soil with cementing materials and a sulfur compound. The sulfur compound acts to chemically stabilize mercury in both the soil and ground water into an immobile state that will harden and lock the mercury in place. The process is similar to making concrete. The solidification process also provides the soil strength necessary to allow for site reuse after the cleanup. Clean material will be put on top of the solidified mass. All work will be overseen by the EPA.
Health and safety procedures, including air monitoring around the work zone and site perimeter, will be in place to protect the surrounding community.
The cleanup work will be completed by the end of 2014. The current owner, 26 Railroad Ave, Inc., will be responsible for ensuring that land use restrictions at the site are followed to ensure that the treated soil and ground water are not disturbed and that no drinking water wells are installed.
From about 1956 to 1998, Mercury Refining, Inc. used an industrial oven to recover mercury from mercury-containing materials, including batteries, thermometers, pressure regulators and dental amalgams. As a result of these activities, soil at the facility became contaminated with mercury and contaminated soil and stormwater drained into the unnamed tributary to the Patroon Creek. Mercury reclamation activities ended at the site in 1998.
The Mercury Refining site was placed on the federal Superfund list in 1983. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation oversaw various cleanup actions at the site until the EPA assumed the lead for the cleanup in 1999.
During the first phase of the cleanup, which occurred between October and December 2013, contaminated soil at the surface, which is more easily accessible to people, was excavated and taken to a disposal facility. The work also included the removal of contaminated sediment from the unnamed tributary to the Patroon Creek. More than 5,500 tons of non-hazardous sediment, soil, debris, concrete and asphalt and 172 tons of hazardous soil and asphalt were excavated and properly disposed of off-site. Additionally, 3,500 gallons of water, including decontamination water and water pumped from the tributary to the Patroon creek were collected and treated and disposed of off-site. All excavated areas were filled with clean soil and re-planted with vegetation. Perimeter air monitoring was conducted throughout the soil and sediment excavation activities and all air quality requirements were met.
The cleanup of the Mercury Refining Superfund site is being conducted by parties responsible for the contamination, with oversight by the EPA. These companies are Gillette Company, KeySpan Gas East Corp., Energizer Battery Manufacturing, Inc., Union Carbide Corporation and Spectrum Brands, Inc. In addition, 19 federal agencies and 46 additional parties also responsible for the contamination were required to make payments into an escrow account to fund the cleanup work at the site. The EPA has also entered into settlements with 316 additional entities that sent mercury-containing material to the site. These settlements provided for the payment of funds to reimburse the EPA for costs it incurred at the site. The value of the cleanup work is estimated at $9.3 million.
For more information about the site, please visit: http://epa.gov/Region2/superfund/npl/mercuryrefining/.