NORWALK, Conn. – There’s a “significant environmental hazard” in Ryan Park, a pair of licensed environmental professionals said Thursday, in explaining to a tough pair of questioners why the park is suddenly being fenced off.
Significant environmental hazard is a technical term used in a state statute, Jeffery Wilson of Weston & Sampson, said in explaining to Rick Reardon and Diane Cece the notification procedures mandated by the state. The surprising specifics unveiled by testing, results delivered to the city in mid-October, mandated a 90-day notice period, he said.
“We have a situation where we have PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl) in soils within the top two feet of soils in concentrations at or about 15 parts per million,” Wilson said. “That triggers a reportable position to the Connecticut DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection). … The city has an obligation to report that to the Connecticut DEEP within 90 days of when the test result was discovered.”
Weston & Sampson is the firm hired by the Redevelopment Agency to do the Ryan Park remediation, a process that began last year.
Cece and Reardon turned a planned one hour meeting at the Norwalk Housing Authority’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative office on Water Street into a two-hour meeting, as Wilson and Malcolm Beeler were grilled for information.
“The more I sit here the more horrified I am,” Cece said after an hour.
In addition to the PCBs, in other areas, there are petroleum hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) SVOCs and metals, according to Weston & Sampson’s PowerPoint presentation, which Redevelopment Agency Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer said will be on the city’s website Friday.
The park will be closed for eight months for a cleanup done in conjunction with remediation on the privately owned 13 and 20 Day Street.
Reardon, who said he has 40 years of experience in remediation, asked if the groundwater table had been completely investigated. The answer was yes.
The PCBs are in the area of the parking lot and basketball courts, which adds up because that’s where a junkyard was, Wilson said.
The report of PCBs came back as a preliminary result of the Phase III remediation process, with a full report due in January.
Phase II was completed in February.
“People use the park. That park may be home to some people at various times of the year. So, can you explain to me the time frame of what happened from February to October?” Cece said.
The Phase II results showed PCBs on the site but not to the extent that the Phase III study did, Wilson said, explaining that there is a very specific process mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency – the granted funded testing done in Phase II is used to determine if more intense testing is needed in Phase III.
It also determines where the testing will be.
Reardon got more specific information: there are more than 100 test borings across the site, and 10 monitoring wells, Wilson said, prompting Reardon to do some calculations about the amount of dirt that might need to be removed, and the number of trucks that might be going through the neighborhood.
Might is the operative concept – Wilson, Beeler and Redevelopment Agency Director Tim Sheehan explained several times that a plan as not been developed yet, as Phase III is not complete. Once the results are in they will be sent to the EPA, which will approve a remediation plan.
The EPA did not decide to close the park; Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae did, Sheehan said.
“It’s a little alarming to hear about this,” Cece said, early in the discussion. “Then it’s alarming to hear about it in a notice that says we’re shutting down the park. Why would you shut down the park just to clean up one area?”
“Are we going to run out of money? Or is the money there to remediate the property the right way?” Reardon asked.
“Phase III puts a hard number on what that remedial cost is,” Wilson said. “We are refining that remediation cost. I am not going to tell you we are at $1.5 million or ¾ of a million, what not. It’s just a bunch of numbers right now. I have to complete all of those studies before I can give you what that number is.”
Sheehan later said the city has grant applications in to cover the cost of the remediation. The work will be done, he said.
“It’s a city asset. Therefore, the city has got liability associated with the environmental contamination in this park,” Sheehan said.
“If that money turns out to be, just for argument’s sake, $5 billion, I guarantee you this is never going to be a city park,” Cece said later.
“It won’t be an insignificant amount of money but it’s not going to be astronomical,” Sheehan replied.
Common Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B) asked if the consultants have any idea of what contamination might be on the surrounding properties.
Weston & Sampson is working with samples from the park, Beeler said, adding that the Council could approach the EPA.
“We need to ensure that somebody else is looking at other contamination that may be there, where people live, that haven’t been notified yet,” Reardon said.
“I think the issue is ‘complete the Phase III,’” Sheehan said, pointing out that the report will go to the EPA and DEEP.
“If the EPA and DEEP indicate that there’s some huge problem that’s offsite, that’s coming onto the site, then that’s going to come back down and there’s going to be something that’s a directive that we’ve got to do more investigation as to what’s causing the movement on the site,” Sheehan said.
Cece wanted to know why there aren’t warning signs on the fence around the park.
There will be signs, and their content is up to DEEP, Wilson said.
“I think that probably no one in this area knows that that park is contaminated,” Cece said, thanking Reardon for bringing up Oyster Shell Park as the reason for their mistrust.
There was a “very wide net” cast in the testing, Wilson said, in response to further questions. If contaminants had been found in the ground water the EPA would have mandated “a circus,” notification to neighbors within 72 hours, he said.
“For the stuff in the soil that is beneath some asphalt, 90 days (notification), because it’s not the same level of danger but still one that they want to seal. That the fence is going to go up, put some signs on it. And the city has decided that instead of just having this fencing here we’re just going to close down this park and we’re going to get it dealt with,” Wilson said.
Reardon asked what specific PCB was found.
Aroclor 1254, Wilson said.
“I still say there’s some dollar threshold that’s going to shut this down entirely,” Cece said.
“We are not going to be at a level that we are going to be shutting down and changing the use,” Sheehan said. “…Based on what we know right now we are not going to have a number that we are not going to be able to address.”
No Council members knew about this, Cece said.
Redevelopment sent the mid-October results to Recreation and Parks, Sheehan said, adding that Mayor Harry Rilling was aware.
Cece posed a question of Wilson.
“With what you found there, and knowing the history of the park… is there any reason for residents to have concern over exposure to what is there, from what’s been the usage of the park?” she asked. “Should anybody be notified, who, for example, did the garden work, hand their hand in the soil for five summers? And kids who were using the soil? Or kids who were using the basketball court in the heat of the summer?”
“I’ll give you a straight up, honest answer,” Wilson said. “Absolutely not.”