EPA proposes deeper cleanup of Evesham site

Posted: July 16, 2013

The groundwater-treatment plant has been chugging away for 13 years, but testing at the former chemical-drum cleaning site in Evesham continues to show elevated levels of a contaminant linked with diabetes, liver conditions, and increased risk of cancer.

Studies in recent years have shown that the plant is doing its job at the Superfund cleanup site at 150 Sharp Rd., officials at the Environmental Protection Agency said, but a hidden source of contamination continues to spread the compound, trichloroethylene (TCE).

The EPA now is proposing a plan to remove that source by excavating 67,500 cubic yards of soil, which officials said would allow the treatment plant to properly purify the groundwater. Within a few years, the site should be clean enough for redevelopment, they said.

"The township has just recently become aware of EPA's decision to bring the . . . site to the forefront again," Evesham Township Manager William Cromie said in an e-mail Friday. "At face value we applaud the decision, but we will be attempting to learn more about the impact the new plan has for our residents."

A public meeting on the plan is scheduled for July 24 in the municipal courtroom in the Evesham Township Municipal Building. The agency also is accepting public comment through Aug. 9.

The comment period allows the community to present concerns or new information, said Richard Ho, a residential project manager at the EPA who handles Superfund sites in central New Jersey. New information could lead the agency to modify its plan, Ho said; otherwise, it will go forward.

Under the proposal, contaminated soil would be removed and clean soil would replace it as backfill, a process that would take about a year, the agency said.

Air monitoring would make sure nearby residents are not put at risk during the excavation, Ho said. The water-treatment plant would continue running for about another year after that, if tests show the expected results.

The total property is about 36 acres, but testing shows the contaminated area is contained to just under two acres, according to the proposed plan.

Once a dairy farm, the property was acquired by Irving Ellis in 1968, who used about four acres for cleaning and storing chemical-waste drums, the agency said. A fire in 1978 shut down the operation, and the property was left vacant.

Left behind were hundreds of drums: 50 to 75 in a large, two-story building, scores of various sizes in three nearby sheds, and, throughout the adjacent area, an additional 100 plastic 55-gallon drums. As they corroded and deteriorated, the abandoned drums leaked their contents into the soil, according to the EPA.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection inspected the site in 1980 in response to an anonymous tip. Three years later, it removed more than 100 drums and some surface soil and began an initial study.

More drums were found buried throughout the contaminated area; in 1989, the DEP excavated an additional 218 drums.

A long-term cleanup plan was finalized in 1992, with the goal of restoring groundwater to drinking-water standards. Nearly 1,400 cubic yards of soil was excavated in 1998, and the water-treatment plant was installed in 2000.

Deep in the ground, below the water table, the EPA believes, pockets of TCE-contaminated soil remained.

"These contaminants, bound tightly in the soils, leach slowly out of the soils, serving as a continuing source of groundwater contamination that is not easily addressed by the existing system," the cleanup proposal reads.

A compound that was historically popular as a solvent and degreaser, TCE had been used in the drum reconditioning at the site. Exposure to TCE has been linked to increased cancer risk, the EPA said, and is also associated with diabetes, liver problems, and urinary-tract disorders.

Once the contaminated soil has been removed, Ho said, the treatment plant's work should be relatively quick. The proposal will cost an estimated $13.6 million, with federal funds paying for most of it, Ho said. State funds cover the rest of the tab.

The area is not used as a source of drinking water, but has been one in the past. When the cleanup operation is done in less than a decade, Ho said, the site should be available for redevelopment for any purpose.

"The goal is to restore or clean up the site to unrestricted use. . . . We clean the site up to human health risk-based standards. And in this case it would be a residential scenario," Ho said.

New Jersey has 113 Superfund sites, the most of any state. There are 1,320 such sites across the nation. The EPA attempts to hold polluting parties responsible for cleanup costs in the Superfund program.

In this case, Ellis, who still owns the property, entered a settlement with the federal and state governments in 1996. Under the terms of that agreement, profit from selling the land after the cleanup is complete will be divided: Ellis can keep 40 percent, the state will receive 17 percent, and the federal government receives the remaining 43 percent.


Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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