Environmental Research Associates

Research & Consulting Ecologists

June 2016

Contaminated Sites15 Jun 2016 03:54 pm

by: Michael H. Levin, Ph.D.

Mistakes are made, usually they just don’t happen.  Sometimes these are correctable.  Often these become cumulative; when that occurs these may compound one another and cease to become accountable.  Harvard Seven is one such site, it is an open thoroughly contaminated site.  There are several different possibilities for reclamation, all elusive, expensive and demanding.  Consider the following:

  • Granting permission for seven properties to be developed on one ~3 acre subdivided contaminated site and expecting each to be approved for development defies reason. It may not be possible to correct contamination for all seven properties regardless of which property is first and which is last. The sites have various types of contamination and are not comparable. All properties are being built upon without first correcting underlying contamination. 
  • There is an assumption that environmental reports of the entire site submitted with an application for building permits would yield all of the information necessary to allow correction of the underlying contamination problems for one or more. This isn’t true for so many reasons; one size doesn’t fit all.    
  • Contamination, a generic term, may extend beyond the ~3 acre site.  Proper study of the entire property with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) alongside geotechnical testing is necessary to determine this. No such complete study has been done either inside or outside property boundaries.  
  • Approval of two or more separate permits for different purposes would not necessarily remediate contamination of the site(s).
  • Property owners on other nearby or adjacent sites may affect each other. Further development or approval of a site may not be possible on a developed site.
  • As-built properties are not equals in removal of their contamination. These vary in locations, and types of contamination.  More than one type of contamination may be present.          
  • Instructions for guidance of approvals are uncertain despite the so-called “perfect knowledge” of the Harvard Seven site as declared by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The sites themselves are “Pandora’s Boxes” of many types of contamination . . . not treasures. While standard criteria for remedies do exist, these are neither workable for this site as a whole that is actively being constructed upon nor is there a manual that resolves approvals for each property.  Final approval of the entire site for construction is out of the question, while separate site construction to buildout is allowed. Each site must be approved separately. Separate approvals are really gaming the system; thank DEP for this.  

Conclusion: Harvard Seven has now become a game of chance overseen by government regulators operating within a combination of: interest in human safety and the regulators own interests. I don’t know which will end up winning but I surmise that human safety will take a back seat.  Would there be accountability if the approvals were the product of a numerous individuals?

Remember, in addition to Harvard Seven, the YMCA is in Ward 7 and the storage facility is in Ward 4 in a  northwest direction are also on contaminated Superfund sites created over 46 years by National Wood Preservers with about a dozen or so chemical compounds used in custom wood treatments where a “cleanup” under the Comprehensive Environmental Responsibility and Reclamation Act (CERCLA) continues to proceed as a Superfund site for the worst contaminated sites in the United States as the Havertown PCP site in the National Priority List (NPL) Number 542 on that list of over 1300 such sites in long periods of groundwater treatment for the past 33 years, first for 30-years by EPA under federal control and the last 3-years and continuing under State management which now bears the costs of testing as a consequence of a transfer of authority under a federal-state agreement.  Over $25 Million of federal State funding has already been spent on this cleanup.  Sites have been removed from the NPL list, but none of the Superfund sites have been completely cleaned-up.

Harvard Seven has no such agreement; there is some limited responsibility under the Underground Storage Tank (UST) and Spill Prevention Act of 1989 this exists because the previous owner, McCandless Fuels, Inc. was given a release of liability from a third party action for removing the known fuel storage tanks on the Harvard Seven property, but with a qualifying statement that if other underground storage tanks were found at a later date, these would be not be considered part of the state’s release of liability and would become a responsibility of McCandless Fuels Inc., for removal and remediation.  This proves to be a bonus for the present owners; two additional underground storage tanks, in addition to a number that already were removed with product inside, piping with tanks in the ground is considered part of the UST Act were found buried on the property about 2-weeks ago on a site being prepared for construction. These tanks and other underground anomalies would have been located by ground-penetrating radar (GPR).

Yes, Haverford’s commissioners have already responded to Harvard Seven, but not a word about the Y’s intransigence over contamination under the building that they constructed for over $20 Million now with over 20,000 users and limited ventilation. The neighbors on Washington Avenue have discussed the continuing ill effects of the Harvard Seven development.  The response attributed to Haverford’s commissioners, as a whole, is construed here as, a single commissioner declaring an undisputed statement at a public meeting to which there is no further debate among the commissioners, such as: call the police (limited action here, that needed is not received); get a lawyer (Yes, indeed!); an expression of thought-stopping righteous indignation accompanied by crocodile tears from grown men (What?); Community Planning and Development has noticed and said (Mind your own business, with an added, your own properties could be affected); do you want to take this matter to a meeting with your State Representative and the State Senator (No, this is a local matter unique to local government here in Haverford, the State Rep seems to be bored with it; this project is best for the township (Um, on what grounds, well, non-contaminated ones?; I/we are not scientists (Yes, you are if you are able to make this statement in good health, then you are able to discriminate science from non-science or an answer from a non-answer); your Ward leader (isn’t here now, he knows about you and you are in his thoughts but he is . . .um, well . . . beyond words; can we do you a favor if you don’t protest this development any further); we have to do something for these affected people (Thanks, nice thought but what outside of a . . . um . . . bribe?); two (2) of us weren’t commissioners when this project was approved so we can’t vote (Also, we can’t evaluate?).  Plus . . . Thanks for the visitations (non-productive as they were on our side) to determine how many of us are affected, with no constructive actions taken to eliminate gross environmental contamination rising to the ground surface, becoming airborne and blowing with the winds and flowing waters.

Harvard Seven2JN142016BC.doc

Havertown PA Superfund15 Jun 2016 11:18 am

Backround to the question. The cupolex ventilation system is one of the selling points that the YMCA used to gain approvals from EPA for the reuse of the Superfund site that is built upon contaminated land. Once activated, the system exhausts air from beneath the floor slab; if not mechanically activated it does not.

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