The Mountain Times

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Clean up for contamination, costs high but required to ensure public health

Dry cleaning solvent from the former Fillipo Dry Cleaners on Woodstock Avenue is migrating through the soil toward a residential neighborhood, creating what state officials are considering an "environmental emergency." The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation convinced the state legislature to pay for a remediation project that is more than 10 times larger than the statutory cap on this kind of project. Although state law calls for a cut-off at $100,000 for this sort of clean-up, the legislators agreed to a $1.2 million price tag.

The traveling chemical is a plume of tetracholoroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE), not only a dry-cleaning solvent but also a known human carcinogen that seems headed toward a nearby residential neighborhood. The chemical is already found in an adjacent lot. Testing will assess how far it has traveled.

If cleanup isn't completed inside 12 months, the chemical may migrate through two adjacent Harrington Avenue lots to the residential neighborhood, according to George Desch, head of the Waste Management and Prevention Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation. If the groundwater in the Harrington Street neighborhood were to become contaminated, the PCE could enter residences' indoor air and become a public health hazard.

Brownfields specialist Matthew Becker, directing the cleanup, outlined the steps it will take, beginning with a two-foot-wide, 20-foot-deep trench, from which contaminated soil and water are removed. The trench then is filled with iron filings which react with and purify contaminated water, but do not bond with it.

Contaminated groundwater is to be removed and stored, so that it can be run through the filing-filled trench and purified. A second phase of the project calls for removing the source of the contamination, the soil beneath the building footprint, and storing it in a special landfill.

Need for the remediation would not have been so urgent had the property owner not torn down the building that housed the dry cleaning company, anticipating redeveloping the site in the near future, a future that didn't occur. When John Ruggiero had the structure removed from and its quarter-acre parcel, the site was exposed to rainwater, which washed the PCE into lower soil layers and apparently speeding up its travel to the neighboring land.
Had remediation taken place in 2010, when the property was proposed as a brownfields site, engineers estimated clean-up to cost $161,000, but didn't figure in expenses for toxic water removal/disposal. Ruggiero couldn't afford it. The following year, the Agency of Natural Resources directed him to immediately clean up the property; when he didn't, ANR fined and sued. After another year, the Environmental Court levied a $5,000 fine and with a state lien on the property, saying that Ruggiero and his landholding company had to reimburse the state for ANR's clean-up. The ruling provides for the state to mitigate the contamination, and then have the state Attorney General sue for cost recovery.