1999 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Tony Chenhansa <tonyc@cpeo.org>
Date: Fri, 23 Apr 1999 15:08:26 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: [Fwd: 4/13/99 Phila. Inquirer RULES LET TOXINS BE COVERED, NOT CL]
A good article forwarded by a newsgroup follower. The link for this
article is


-------- Original Message --------

The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 13, 1999
Rules let contaminants be covered, not cleaned
By Bob Fernandez
It's white and gooey and described in a consultant's study as having the 
consistency of toothpaste and a high asbestos content.
A few years ago, this former brick factory's processing lagoon in
Township, a six-foot-deep pool that measures 50 by 100 feet, would have
an environmental-cleanup nightmare.
The solution today?
Pave it over.
Soon, it will be an office and retail center.
A similar scenario has already unfolded in North Philadelphia, where an 
oil-saturated former fuel depot has become three acres of concrete and 
macadam, upon which sits an Asian food warehouse and a parking lot. 
Welcome to the new world of environmental protection.
Many states, under the banner of so-called brownfield laws, have
loosened cleanup regulations and standards in recent years to spur 
development, or sales, of contaminated land.
Initially conceived, and sold to the public, as aids to redevelopment of 
abandoned urban factories that blight cities, the purpose of the
laws was to put the property back on the tax rolls and halt sprawl. But
laws extended the looser regulations and certain legal protections to 
suburban and rural land, too.
This property ranges from telephone-pole sites contaminated with PCBs to 
abandoned rail yards polluted with heavy metals to car lots, gas
stations and 
dry cleaners tainted with chemicals.
This has been possible because, in the last several years, the federal 
government has relinquished most oversight of contaminated property in
nation -- except the most dangerous and contaminated Superfund sites.
State officials say the new standards, developed in the last several
still protect the public from carcinogens and other toxic materials, but
more realistic than what the Environmental Protection Agency had
And, indeed, many others also believe that the environmental regulations
written in a way that made them onerous and almost impossible to
resulting in multimillion-dollar cleanups as companies were forced to
truckload after truckload of contaminated dirt from a property.
But now some worry that the new government attitude has gone the other
and given companies too much latitude to sweep their contaminants under
"They may remove some toxic material on the surface, but they will leave 
what's in the ground in the ground, which basically means it's there for 
future generations," said Jeff Schmidt, lobbyist for the Pennsylvania
Club. "Eventually, somebody will have to clean it up.
"I would call that a coverup, not a cleanup."
Schmidt said Pennsylvania is weakening environmental regulations in an 
attempt to compete with other states for jobs.
Not so, said Denise K. Chamberlain, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania 
Department of Environmental Protection. "We're looking at cutting away
of the red tape."
Chamberlain said Pennsylvania has developed a "holistic" approach to 
environmental cleanup. "There is an awful lot of momentum and energy
with the 
program," she said.
State agencies have used powers in the brownfield laws to draft their
risk-exposure limits to carcinogens and to adopt controversial
cleanup methods.
"Capping," the technical term for paving over and fencing off dangerous 
pollutants to protect the public, is now widely used in New Jersey and 
Brownfield laws also include broad provisions protecting new property
and lenders from lawsuits over potential hidden, massive pollution
in the future. This removes the threat of new property owners getting
with a multimillion-dollar cleanup bills for pollution that may have
on the land for decades.
Pennsylvania has thousands of contaminated properties. So far, about 730
been certified under the Land Recycling Act, the name of the state's 
brownfield law, as complying with new standards and considered free of 
environmental liability.
The number is partially inflated because the locations of 140 telephone 
poles, most of them in northeast Pennsylvania, individually qualified
for the 
program. The ground around the poles had been polluted with PCBs.
DEP officials say the program got off to a slow start because property
distrusted the agency and did not want to disclose the pollution on
property, fearing fines or other enforcement action.
Participation has picked up in the last six months, they said.
Property owners in Pennsylvania must advertise their environmental
cleanup in 
local newspapers.
In New Jersey, 1,130 properties have participated in the brownfields
which was signed into law by the governor in early 1998. This includes
properties in Gloucester, 87 in Camden, and 49 in Burlington Counties.
On the Hudson River in the New Jersey town of West New York, a former
yard polluted with spilled gasoline and other chemicals is now a
and townhouse community with thousands of units.
"People can't dig down there and put in a pool, but they wouldn't anyway 
because it's townhomes," said Fred Mumford, community relations manager
New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection.
New Jersey's DEP says it will publish the identities of certain
properties in its 1999 list titled "Known Contaminated Sites in New
These will be the properties that qualified for the brownfields program
now have deed notices indicating that contaminants remain in the soil or 
"I don't think any state is as busy as we are," Rick Gimello, assistant 
commissioner at DEP, said. "Our pace is off the charts."
New regulations, printed in publications the size of a telephone book,
designed to protect public health, while also making cleanups
For instance, experts say capping with asphalt or concrete or even clay
practical, cheap, and protects the public. Children won't eat
dirt if it is under several inches of asphalt and a foot or two of
"The idea of stabilizing or encapsulating something in place has been
a long time, and it is very acceptable," said Ronald D. Neufeld,
professor of 
civil engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a member of
Cleanup Standards Scientific Advisory Board, which drafted the 
recommendations that resulted in the new environmental cleanup
"The philosophy is to reduce risk. . . . Just because it's there doesn't
it's moving and dangerous. And that's a tough sell to the public."
In Jersey City, regulators approved a Home Depot -- which typically
the parking space for hundreds of cars -- on a property polluted with
chromium waste, the state DEP's Mumford said.
To make sure the public is safe from whatever contaminants are in the
and may come in contact with skin, states have drafted their own
exposure limits.
Pennsylvania has set a 1-in-100,000 risk as acceptable for its statewide 
health standard in qualifying for the Land Recyling program. This means 
exposure to contaminants cannot present more than a 1-in-100,000 risk of 
producing cancer in a person over a lifetime.
New Jersey has set its risk standard at 1-in-1,000,000, which is the
used by the federal government. Pennsylvania officials say the higher 
standard is unnecessarily conservative.
Kevin Reinert, a member of the Pennsylvania advisory board and research 
section manager in the toxicology department at Philadelphia's Rohm &
Co., called the risk "a blip on what we expose ourselves to every day 
A comparable cancer risk would be smoking 14 cigarettes in a lifetime,
10 chest X-rays, or drinking 300 cans of diet soda, Reinert said.
Many abandoned urban factories are the way they were before the
laws were passed -- blighted.
One success in the brownfield program in Philadelphia has been tearing
the former Sovereign Oil fuel depot on American Street in North
and building the food warehouse on the heavily contaminated soil. The
was paid for with more than $1 million in government grants.
City officials said say they will need additional government subsidies,
addition to the relaxed standards, to redevelop the remaining polluted 
industrial sites scattered around the city.
That's not so with prized, contaminated suburban land at highway
Take the 100 acres in Plymouth Township with the asbestos goo as an
The land, which has been an environmental concern for state regulators
the 1970s, is near the intersection of the Blue Route and the
Turnpike, a wonderful spot for a corporate office park and retail
center. On 
a recent day, a hawk soared overhead and, several hundred yards away,
cars whooshed by on the expressway.
A Target discount store and Lowe's Home Center have already signed on as 
tenants for the Metroplex shopping center that will be built there.
About a half-mile from that site, another 52 acres qualified for
relief through the Land Recycling Act. This is at the intersection of
Wood Road and Ridge Pike.
One monitoring well on the 52 acres found contaminants at troublesome
although it did not appear that the chemicals were reaching Plymouth
State regulators did not require a cleanup. In the past year, a BJ's 
Warehouse, Office Max and Home Depot have been built on the site.
The shopping center is the largest chunk of retail space built in the 
township since the Plymouth Meeting Mall was built in the 1960s. 
Pennsylvania DEP officials say they are pleased with the brownfields
because it protects the public health and fuels development.
"Before this, the federal government and the states wanted you to clean
the ground to a level it was when Lady Godiva was around," said Jim
Snyder, a 
director with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
didn't make any sense."
copyright 1998 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

  Prev by Date: cpeo-brownfields listserve is back in service!!!!
Next by Date: Friday 4/22/99 Brownfields Introductions (continued)
  Prev by Thread: cpeo-brownfields listserve is back in service!!!!
Next by Thread: Friday 4/22/99 Brownfields Introductions (continued)

CPEO Lists
Author Index
Date Index
Thread Index