Some industry pollutes, and some property owners and operators in potentially polluting industries pollute more than other operators. Most pollution has costs that are ultimately assessed not only to property owners, but to the community at large. This basic reality is what Republican President Richard Nixon had in mind when he created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
In industrial property markets, contaminated sites are sticky problems, generating costs in all kinds of ways. The discovery of pollution on a property can lock it out of the market for decades, no matter how fit for a purpose or well-located. Once discovered, pollution can create a chain of legal liability for the health problems of neighbors that leads to the property owners or operators, which drives health and legal costs. These costs are externalized, meaning markets just don’t work in settling the ultimate cost levels and responsibilities – hence the EPA and state agencies stepping in to that role.
It’s not often that we get to see these costs reported upon with any degree of clarity, but when a contaminated industrial property is located across the street from a newspaper office, interesting numbers arise.
This week’s story by Christina Kristofic in the suburban Philadelphia Intelligencer newspapers focuses on a former electroplating site located across the street from the Intelligencer offices whose pollution cleanup at the hands of federal and state agencies has climbed into the millions.
The basic cost of hauling away and sequestering 3600 cubic yards of cancer-causing dirt and replacing with “clean” dirt? In one case, at least $625 per cubic yard:
The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to remove 3,600 cubic yards of contaminated dirt from the site of a former electroplating factory on Broad Street in Doylestown.
Then they will replace it with “clean” dirt.
Officials expect the process to take about 50 days and cost about $2.25 million, according to the EPA’s record of decision. But they don’t know yet when they will get the money and start the 50-day clock.
“Our preference would be that the starting date was tomorrow,” said Doylestown Borough Manager John Davis.
“Our understanding is that this is not a terribly expensive project as far as these remediations go and this is not a terribly complicated or lengthy process. It’s digging and removing fill dirt, and replacing it.”
Davis and Doylestown Council President Det Ansinn said they now intend to reach out to the borough’s representatives in Congress to see if they can help the EPA get the money it needs for the project.
The state Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA have been monitoring the site at 330 N. Broad St., which is across the street from The Intelligencer’s office, since the 1960s when it was the Chem-Fab electroplating factory.
The Bucks County Department of Health and the DEP cited the factory several times in the 1960s for spills and release of industrial waste from above-ground storage tanks, underground storage tanks and the catch basin to Cooks Run.
Another company acquired the Chem-Fab site in the late 1970s and used it for disposal of chemical wastes generated by other companies.
The EPA found the groundwater near the site to be contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) in 1987. High levels of TCE may cause liver, kidney or lung cancer if inhaled, ingested or touched, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.