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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 13, 2010

Update on hazards
Army Corps manager: “We are not running away”

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The Army Corps of Engineers is not planning on abandoning its clean-up efforts near the Northeastern Industrial Park any time soon.

“We don’t just pull the plug and leave. We are not running away,” said Gregory Goepfert, project manager for the Army Corps.

The Northeastern Industrial Park was once the site of an Army depot, set up in 1941 as a storage center for the military during World War II. The Army diverted the Black Creek into two halves, and sent waste into the creek or buried it on site. Some of the debris left by the Army is hazardous.

The Army classifies sites that it considers a risk to human health as areas of concern — the local depot has nine. Goepfert said there is a step-by-step process the Army Corps follows for each AOC. It evaluates risk, conducts an investigation, compares standards with the state, and assesses the risk. If the risk assessment shows that there is a risk remaining, action will be taken, he said.

Several of the nine AOCs have already been cleaned up, and may require no further action, he said; action is currently being taken on others. Still others need millions of dollars worth of remediation.

At a meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board on May 6, Goepfert addressed each AOC and discussed which part of the process applied to each. AOCs one and seven, which were an Army landfill and a disposal area, are still being studied; Goepfert said both areas will require action, and a proposed plan will be issued by December.

AOC two, a former bivouac area and post commander’s landfill, property later sold to Joan Burns, has already received $1.2 million in clean-up, and Goepfert said the Army Corps had signed a record of decision, stating that the area required no further action, a decision with which the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation agreed.

Diamente’s mission

The third area of concern is a burn pit located close to Guilderland High School, which has recently been brought to public attention through the efforts of Christina Diamente, the mother of a high school student. An underground plume of contaminants from AOC three was found to be polluting the groundwater, and in 2002, the Army Corps spent $900,000 on removal action.

In the spring of 2003, the Army spent another $700,000 on clean-up. The area is now being monitored by wells on its perimeter. One of the wells on the high school property has a level of volatile organic compounds that is slightly above the standards for drinking water; the level acceptable for drinking is 5.0 parts per billion, and the level of trichloroethanol in the well is at 5.4 parts per billion.

However, the water from high-school wells near the monitoring well is not being used for drinking. Guilderland High School gets its drinking water from the town’s municipal system.  Instead, the high-school wells water the school’s athletic fields.

Diamente, whose daughter is a member of the track team, spoke out last month at a school board meeting, saying she was concerned that children exposed to the dirt that absorbed the water may be at risk. Subsequently, the Army Corps agreed to test the high school’s well water; results are not yet in.

Goepfert said that volatile organic compounds, like trichloroethanol, break down in the air, and don’t stay in the soil long enough to pose a risk. That well will continue to be monitored until 2011. (For the full story, go online to altamontenterprise.com, and look under Guilderland archives for April 15, 2010 and April 29, 2010.)

The toxic plume, which is slowly traveling northwest underground, will require some type of action, according to Goepfert, but he said it is highly unlikely that the plume will be removed entirely. It might be capped, using a process similar to the one the Environmental Protection Agency uses for military landfills, and that the Army Corps might also use oxidization treatment.

At the Restoration Advisory Board meeting last week, Diamente requested that the Army Corps perform soil grid testing on the high school’s athletic fields, and Goepfert said only land that was formerly owned by the depot would be tested. Goepfert told The Enterprise this week that his research showed the depot had never owned the land now used for the high school’s baseball and football fields, and running track. Diamente is now researching whether the school is built on former depot land.

Army believes AOCs 6, 8, and 9 need no more work

Area four, a construction and demolition landfill, was not active when the Army depot was in the area, and Goepfert said there is no evidence of contamination, so it is likely that there will be no further action there.

AOC five is the only part of the former depot that was operated by the government. Up until 2007, it was used to store materials for national defense, including metals and ores. The site is now inactive, and a property transfer is being administered by the General Services Administration. It was never part of the Army Corps formerly used defense site program, Goepfert said.

During the construction of Guilderland’s wastewater treatment plant in the mid-1990s, waste materials were found, and historical aerial photos of the area suggested the site might have been a dumping ground for the Army. The site became area of concern six. Goepfert said test pits were excavated, and no buried waste was found, but some metal concentrations in the soil were slightly above the state’s criteria. However, since there were no obvious signs of buried waste, or significant contamination, Goepfert said no further action at AOC six will be necessary.

The eighth area of concern is the Black Creek. Goepfert said some impacts downstream of the creek were evident, but, if the Army Corps used the state’s soil standards, the level of contamination would be acceptable for soil in a residential yard. There is no human health risk, so there will not be any further action, said Goepfert.

The last area of concern, number nine, also known as the Building 60 area, had an oil and water separator removed, and Goepfert said there were no problems with sediment in the Black Creek, and there will probably be no further action.

Thaddeus Ausfeld, co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Board and the former manager of water and wastewater in Guilderland, suggested at last week’s meeting that the Army Corps host a tour of each area of concern so that members of the public who are interested in learning where they are could examine them. Goepfert said the suggestion would be taken into consideration.

Goepfert said that, even when the Army Corps issues a final record of decision, indicating that no further action is necessary, there is a paragraph describing the policy that, if any evidence is ever uncovered that proves a risk still exists, the Army will always come back and take responsibility. He also said that no record of decision would be finalized until the Army Corps had received public input.

“Our whole objective is to make sure that human health and the environment are protected, and that anything left behind by the defense department is properly addressed,” Goepfert said.

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