NORWALK, Conn. — Cost cutting measures are planned in the environmental cleanup of Norwalk’s Ryan Park, a licensed environmental professional said Thursday.
“We have a $2 million grant, we are doing our best to reduce costs as much as possible,” Zoe Belcher of Weston & Sampson said at a community meeting held in the Norwalk Housing Authority’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative office on North Water Street.
It’s necessary to dig down 14 feet to remove soil contaminated with PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl) in the area that used to be a junkyard, Malcom Beeler said, of a procedure governed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To save money, less-contaminated soil from another area of the park will then be used as fill, Belcher said.
As long as that soil is four feet down, and covered by clean fill, that’s acceptable, Belcher said.
EPA authorization of this plan arrived Thursday, Belcher said. It will now be posted on the Redevelopment Agency’s website, RDA Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer said.
Jeffrey Willson, Belcher and Beeler were questioned primarily by citizens Diane Lauricella and Rick Reardon, both of whom claim experience with hazardous waste.
“I am surprised it’s already been approved,” Lauricella said, explaining that she had asked Sweitzer to look at the proposal as the EPA evaluated it.
NancyOnNorwalk had also asked for information, receiving a cryptic summary.
Willson said that there was a lot of back and forth with EPA and he wasn’t comfortable sharing information until things have been worked out.
“I don’t want to present information that may change from meeting to meeting to meeting, and then there’s a spread of misinformation,” Willson said. “We wanted to present the information once we got the EPA’s review and approval. No intent whatsoever to hide any information or to keep you out of the loop. I like to have all my ducks in a row before I say this is how we’re going to do it, because I’ve seen it done the other way. There is so much information presented to the public that it just gets overwhelming or confusing.”
The PCBs likely are from hydraulic fluids from junked cars, Belcher said.
“PCB is an organic chlorine compound that was added to hundreds of building products due to their chemical stability, nonflammability, insulating properties and high flash point. Because of PCB’s environmental toxicity and classification as a persistent organic pollutant, PCB production in the US was banned in 1979,” the Weston & Sampson summary said.
Hat manufacturing in the northeast corner of the park likely created the metals found in the soil there, and there are less toxic oils in other places, Belcher said.
The PCBs will drive all activity, as higher levels ae removed first, she said. Since these are dangerous only if humans have direct contact, either eating the soil, rolling around in it or playing on it, EPA allows less contaminated soils to be buried 4 feet below clean fill or 2 feet below pavement, she said.
Good news: the most contaminated area just happens to be where the new design for the park puts the basketball court and part of the parking lot. So much of it will be sealed just by following the design that has been developed for the park.
Norwalk will go through a bid process for the work in May and June and the cleanup will be done June through September, Belcher said. Documentation to finish the job will be completed in November.
Construction of the new park is expected to begin in December and be complete in October 2018, Jeff Olszewski of Stantec said.
Cost cutting will include “moving the soil once,” Belcher said. Rather than dig it up and then test it, then load it into trucks, the soil will be “characterized” with a rig waiting for it, she said.
Soils are segregated according to their contaminants, as different facilities accept different contaminants, she said. The soil with the higher levels of PCBs go to the most expensive facilities, and Norwalk will make sure only the highly-contaminated soil will go there.
Less soil sampling will be done than is typical, she said, a comment later disputed by Beeler.
“Typically the EPA has us do a smaller grid, in this case, they have allowed for a variance. We’ll still get a good group of samples but we don’t have to go every five feet, for example. In this case, we’ll be going every 20 feet,” Belcher said. “…(this) allows us to limit the amount of samples that are taken and still get good coverage to identify whether stuff needs to come out, still, or if what we have can remain in site.”
Lauricella pushed back on that, asking for details.
“Let me clarify, when I talk about contaminated soils, I am not talking about ethyl death. I am not talking huge concentrations. I am talking general minor concentrations that will be left,” Belcher said.
“I am not in favor of the 20-foot sampling grid,” Lauricella said. “I’ll do what I have to to try to put this on pause so that some us, especially some of us with knowledge, can see if we agree with the sampling grid waiver that you got.”
That prompted comment from Beeler, sitting in the audience.
Belcher misspoke, he said.
“Remediation will be to the strictest standards in the EPA regulations, one milligram per kilogram, and all sampling will be done as per subpart of in the federal regulations, which is the tightest grid,” said Beeler, who was described as the PCB expert among the three.
Belcher said she’s been working with Volative Organic Compounds (VOCs).
“PCB regulation is a strict as EPA can dictate in a situation like this. That was with input from the state as well,” Beeler said.
Reardon asked about the groundwater.
It’s 4 to 9 feet down, and frack tanks will be used, Belcher said. Plans will be approved by Norwalk’s Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA).
The problem is usually that the water coming out of such work is “too clean,” Beeler said, as organic materials are removed and publicly operated treatment works don’t want it.
Reardon asked if soil samples from Raymond and Day Street were also contaminated, and the answer was yes.
He was driving at contamination moving underground.
“Groundwater is flowing through that whole site,” Willson said. “… It’s an area wide contamination. it’s not worth pointing the finger at the Ryan Park site or the Washington Village site, it’s just a hodgepodge.”
“There is going to be a significant amount removed that is going to be replaced at the surface with clean fill materials,” Beeler said. “By doing these actions, we are going to generally reduce the impacts to this part of Norwalk. There will be additional work going on in the housing complexes in the area. So, in general, when this $52 million worth of state and federal grants involved here, this whole general area of Norwalk is going to be not only much nicer in appearance, it’s going to be very much cleaner. It’s going to be much safer for the community.”
“You guys are good, don’t get me wrong,” Reardon said “… This is going to cost much more money than it would previously… We went from 4 feet to 14 feet. Now, when we are talking about taking out dirt and putting dirt back in, dust control and all the other stuff, now we may even have a water system in place, we don’t know yet, we may need to use some calcium down the line.”
The site isn’t the Love Canal but residents may be alarmed at the hazardous waste suits that workers will wear, Lauricella said, arguing repeatedly for more public outreach.
“For the Day Street property, adjacent to the park, we have been fully engaged in remediation for the last two months and we have had the fences wrapped with fabric and the trucks coming and going. We have received not received any calls of confusion or alarm, and we have been very clear there is environmental remediation going on,” Norwalk Housing Authority Choice Neighborhoods Director Tom Ivers said.
There’s a monthly CNI community meeting, and the public can come at any time to learn about Ryan Park, Sweitzer said.
A little more than half, less than two-thirds, of the 2.2-acre park is contaminated, Willson said.
It’s a standardized process to clean up PCBs and other contaminants, with testing done at the conclusion of the work and documentation sent to the Health Department to prove that protocols have been met in a “very strict remediation plan,” Belcher said.
“There is someone on the hook at the end,” she said, with Beeler adding, “We are subject to civil and criminal penalties.”