The former site of a mercury refinery that borders the towns of Colonie and Guilderland is on track to be cleaned up the end of 2014 as it enters phase two of the project.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced that phase two of the cleanup project, costing $9.3 million, began at the Mercury Refining Superfund Site the week of July 14.
Groundwater and soil at the site was contaminated with mercury as a result of operations by Mercury Refining, Inc. from 1956 to 1998. The company used an industrial oven to extract mercury from mercury-containing materials such as batteries, thermometers, pressure regulators and dental amalgams.
The extraction process contaminated the soil, and then stormwater transferred the chemicals into an unnamed tributary of Patroon Creek. The site was placed on the Superfund List in 1983, where the DEC oversaw numerous cleanup projects until the EPA assumed responsibility in 1999.
The first phase of cleanup occurred from October through December of 2013, where contaminated soil at the surface was excavated and taken to a disposal facility. The work also included the removal of sediment from the tributary. More than 5,500 tons of non-hazardous sediment, soil, debris concrete and asphalt was removed. Also, 172 tons of hazardous soil and decontamination water were excavated and properly disposed, and 3,500 gallons of water was pumped from the tributary and disposed of.
“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.”
The second phase of the project is estimated to be completed by October and will look to secure the deeper contaminated soil and groundwater. After removing the top eight feet of soil, the soil beneath that will be treated by mixing the soil with cementing materials and a sulfur compound to stabilize the mercury. The cementing process will turn the soil into a solid, leak-proof mass, which extends 60 to 70 feet underground.
Mercury is an element that can damage people’s nervous systems and harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune systems. Mercury in soil and groundwater can impact fish and other wildlife.
The key companies responsible for funding the cleanup 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 current owner of the site, 26 Railroad Ave., Inc., is responsible for ensuring that land use restrictions at the site are followed to make sure no water wells are drilled and that soil is not disturbed.
More information can be found at epa.gov/Region2/superfund/npl/mercuryrefining.