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Ryan Park cleanup draws questions

Ryan Park, on May 24.

This sign was posted in the last day or two, Jeff Wilcox of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said Wednesday.

Correction, 4:32 p.m.: Remediation began in February, photo credit fixed. Updated, 4:13 p.m.: Copy edit, photo added.

NORWALK, Conn. —Environmental contamination is being removed from South Norwalk’s Ryan Park, with some saying that not enough has been done to protect the neighborhood.

The sign that was posted was inadequate in informing the public about the contaminants nearby, activist Diane Lauricella said early this month. A new sign was posted this week “following discussions between the environmental consultants and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) spokesperson Jeff Wilcox said in a Wednesday email.

“This new sign deals directly with remediation issue, and it is sufficient,” Wilcox wrote.

Remediation at Ryan Park began in February. The plan was to dig 14 feet down in the area that used to be a junkyard to remove soil contaminated with PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl). Wilcox said that in some spots the excavations are a foot or so deeper than expected in order to meet the remedial criteria, PCBs at a concentration of less than one part per million.

The original Ryan Park sign.

“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,” an environmental summary on the site, written by Weston & Sampson, the city’s environmental consultant for Ryan Park, said.

PCBs are dangerous only if humans have direct contact, either eating the soil, rolling around in it or playing on it, Zoe Belcher of Weston & Sampson said last year during a community meeting.

The gate next to the South Norwalk Community Center on May 26. (Rick Reardon)

Rick Reardon, a South Norwalk resident, said the gates have not been secure; he provided a May 26 photo of the gate on the South Main Street side of the park, behind the South Norwalk Community Center, showing a huge gap under one side of the gate, which a child could easily crawl under.

The gate next to the South Norwalk Community Center on June 7.

When NancyOnNorwalk visited the site on June 7, a concrete berm was up against the gate to block the gap.

Asked about that on June 7, Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer said there are constant problems with the gate because people come in with bolt cutters, remove the padlocks and move the signs.

“This has happened four times already,” she said. “We come back and fix it. Then they come back.”

“The fencing was considered sufficient control on site access,” Wilcox said on June 4. “The city’s environmental consultant informs DEEP that all state and federal public notice requirements have been met.”

DEEP felt the site adequately secure, as it “is manned during working hours, fenced at all times, and openings in the fence closed,” he said.

“There may be times when the gate is open, but workers are not be visible because they are in the site trailer (which overlooks the gate) or working in another areas of the site.  The city’s environmental consultant reports that a  gap in the perimeter fence was opened during remedial activities but has since been closed using concrete blocks,” Wilcox wrote. “The city’s environmental contractor has been instructed that the gap beneath the gate be closed off during times the gate is closed, or any time the site is unoccupied.”

Fencing behind the South Norwalk Community Center, on June 7.

“I was curious the other day and took a peak {sic},” South Norwalk Community Center Board Chairman Warren Peña wrote in a June 8 email. “The fencing certainly stopped me and I would think, although children are more curious, that it does prevent children from playing or trespassing.”

He added, “I noticed they changed something with the fencing.  It does seem higher and more secure.”

South Norwalk Citizens for Justice founder and President Ernie Dumas said there’s been a lack of information.

“I can’t say whether I approve of it or think that is secure enough or not, because of the simple reason we don’t have enough information on what’s going on there and I think if they have a signage down there it’s in the wrong spot where people can’t actually read or know what’s happening in Ryan Park,” Dumas said. “But I’m going to put together a public information session along with the people from South Norwalk Citizens for Justice so that we can get more information about what’s going on in Ryan’s Park. Because, you know, we really don’t know a lot about it, we don’t have a lot of information about what’s going on.”

Lauricella, who once worked for the Department of Environmental Protection as a field inspector dealing with hazardous materials, said last week that the “sign is supposed to be visible along the periphery of the site, with name of remediation company, name of project manager, and phone number clearly marked in large letters.”

Day Street on June 1. (Diane Lauricella)

She provided a photo of the sign posted on a fence, behind piles of gravel.

Sweitzer agreed that the sign was obscured but said, “That’s temporary because they stockpiled some fill. They can’t move the sign every time they bring in soil.”

The sign was more visible Sunday.

Reardon said Weston & Sampson wasn’t separating the waste removed from the site.

“That is correct, the city is not separating the excavated soil as it all is being disposed offsite as PCB contaminated soil in accordance with the EPA approved Remedial Action Plan,” Wilcox wrote on June 4.

“If I read the Remedial Action Plan properly, PCBs were identified in site soils up to a concentration of 640 ppm in one sample,” Wilcox wrote, further elaborating, “It is DEEP’s understanding that the quantity of soil removed is consistent with the amount proposed to be removed.  As to whether the dimensions of the excavation vary from what was originally proposed, yes, the excavations are reported to extend deeper. This is not unusual in remediation projects. DEEP and EPA both evaluate whether the remediation performed met its goals (in this case removal of soils with PCB concentrations greater than 1 part per million), not on the size of the excavation.”

Ryan Park with Washington Village in the background, with residents’ windows open. (Rick Reardon)

Reardon said neighbors had been told nothing and their windows were open.

“As with all construction projects involving the movement of soil, there will be some dust generated,” Wilcox wrote. “Various controls, including wetting and covering of contaminated soil stockpiles with plastic sheeting are used to control dust creation, and a monitoring program is implemented to monitor the effectiveness of the dust control measures.”

“An air monitoring plan is in place at the site and has been for the duration of the project,” Wilcox explained further. “Portable dust monitor(s) are used on a daily basis at appropriate locations.  The city’s environmental consultant informs DEEP that no exceedances of the site action level have been reported to date. If there had been exceedances, additional corrective measures would have been implemented.  Additionally, personal dust monitors have been used to assess exposure to workers.  Analysis of the dust filters indicate no exposure above OSHA standards.”

Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan said concerned residents can contact the city’s customer service center at (203) 854-3200.

The remediation will conclude on schedule at the end of June, he said.

Sweitzer said there’s a testing process that Weston & Sampson has to go through before the contract is closed, explaining, “They have to test the perimeters. They cannot leave the site until we get a sign off.”

The new Ryan Park is expected to feature a regulation size basketball court, fitness centers, a walking loop a 1/3-acre yard in the middle, officials said a year ago.

At the time, they said they expected remediation to be complete in November, with the park opening late this year.

Morgan said that when the remediation is finished, the city will bid the project for the remaining park improvements, and, “The Ryan Park project is a great revitalization effort in Washington Village and residents of all ages will truly enjoy it for many years to come.”

Ryan Park remediation begins in February. (Norwalk Housing Authority)

(Diane Lauricella)

Ryan Park in April.

Ryan Park on Sunday.

4 comments

Diane Lauricella June 14, 2018 at 7:13 am

The photos attributed to me in February and April are not mine.

In addition, the purpose of public clean up signage is to:

Inform public of pollution cleanup.

Give public contact information in order to find out details.

Provide warning that activity at site more than moving around clean soil.

Anyone allowed by CTDEEP to erect a cleanup signage MUST place them where the public can actually see them…NOT, in this case, in the middle of an active job site where public may need binoculars to view. What was done here by City contractors did not fulfill the spirit OR the letter of the law.

Diane Lauricella June 14, 2018 at 7:21 am

Also, plans are underway by South Norwalk Citizens for Justice and other partners to hold a public information session on Monday, June 18 at 7 pm at Calvary Baptist Church on Concord Street in order to inform neighborhood and citizens about the details.

Federal, State and Local officials have been invited. Stay tuned for meeting updates.

In addition, PCBs are not the only contaminants of concern and the meeting will provide additional information.

Rick June 14, 2018 at 11:49 am

If your not a fan of the RDA please take note the RDA may not be the right agency overseeing such a project.

Thank you Nancy for reporting on a site that the scope of cleanup changed from the original meeting with the RDA and Susan Sweitzer. Im surprised Susan has so much background in remediation, she did note in that meeting at the RDA suggested in so many words Vets park was just as bad if not worse and when that site was deemed for cleanup it was probably be more complicated and the cost will be substantial.

When the meeting with Susan Mr Sheehan took place concern of the residents the children and contamination leaving the site was paramount the area the work was being done in was complicated and sensitive to residents health.

With that lets skip to the EPA and the DEEP, they first realized weeks after the job started no one called to tell them ground had been broken, dirt had been moved residents were never told to close their windows there was no city rep making sure what we had agreed upon in the meeting took place once the job started.

An observation by South Norwalk Community Center Board Chairman Warren Peña falls short of any concern that an open hole filled with water at least 15 feet deep was no more than 10 feet from the fence in the driveway of his building next a secured hazardous waste site.

I was under the impression Warren had some experience in construction sites and safety I guess this is not the case. If not having children close to any 15 foot hole open hole that hosts a pond where any child could drown seems to be irrelevant at this point.

As it was the remediation company has been using the driveway and tracked dirt from a pcb site onto the driveway, dust along the building has never been washed so Susan must of had swab tests done to ensure no contamination has been left on the windows or door knobs or even tracked into the building. When we saw pictures from Nancy with Colin Hosten standing within what could of been a hot zone one has to wonder who is minding the store?

When you can write your name anywhere on the old NEON building in dust next to a haz mat site where obviously dust has been an issue maybe its time to ask the RDA who is in charge?

This doesn’t mean anyone has been contaminated it just means there is a lot of doubt a professional stance has been taken by the city and the RDA to ensure the public has been protected. There was clearly blatant disregard for those still living in Washington village. When we went door to door no one had a clue what was going on feet from their open windows. In fact some suggested respiratory distress has been present during all the construction in the village. Why were we the first to ask?

Cost was a factor when lumping all dirty dirt together, lets use hypothetical figures on removal. Some contaminated dirt low level with maybe oil in costs about $30 dollars a ton for disposal we were told at the meeting there was a lot compared to $400 a ton for pcb’s .This now means all dirt was disposed of at the higher cost according to the DEEP. So maybe the depth may have been off a little is it possible the job is costing twice as much for disposal? Susan?

The DEEP has given Nancy some information but the person in charge of the PCB;s sits about 200 miles north in the EPA regional building in Boston. This woman is an expert known for working many PCB sites including superfund sites and their clean ups,She over rules the DEEP on Ryan park and should she is an expert. She also had no idea what was going on until the first call and since then been available to speak to when the concern for the site came up.

The problems the residents are having is the engineer who Susan had at a meeting in the RDA building on water st outlining the scope and what Ryan park held for obstacles was gone before the job started, left our concerns at the door o the way out.

Lajoes dumpsters were seen taking steel away from the excavated site was it dirty did it have pcbs on it, we will never know the EPA had no information on it actually was a surprise metals were taken of the site so it becomes a contamination issue until its cleared up i guess.

Communications Manager Joshua Morgan suggests to call city hall , I did who is on first was the menu of the day. Who is charge Josh? The mayor could of given that statement and it could of been just effective its time to do some homework what is the city paying you for?

Susan said locks were cut signs were stolen, there must be 4 police reports on this. The kids have been playing on the site since it started not knowing what was actually there, why is she in charge and if she is why are we calling city hall Josh?

Im sure the city means well “The Ryan Park project is a great revitalization effort in Washington Village and residents of all ages will truly enjoy it for many years to come.

But at what price I doubt if anyone wants to see anyone get sick and then enjoy the park with a respiratory or health problems sitting in a wheel chair Josh.

Pictures have been taken since the start of the remediation project sent to those in charge and the response has been great there are those in the DEEP and the EPA who take residents health seriously.

Tom Cloister should know all of this and Susan as well its what we pay them to do isn’t it?

Mr Mayor before you shake up the city with your plan make sure everyone is doing their job before you put anyone one of them in charge if report cards were given out it seems some of those in charge have failed.

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