Federal and state environmental agencies are continuing to monitor and work on cleanup of contaminants at the Lehigh Train Derailment Superfund Site off of Gulf Road, according to information obtained by The Batavian.
The elimination of TCE contaminants from groundwater in the four-mile-long plume area, which stretches from Gulf Road to four miles east and southeast of the derailment site, is not likely to occur in most of our lifetimes.
The derailment site cleanup was largely forgotten until 2011 when it became the focus of speculation during the Le Roy tic issue when about a dozen high school girls developed spontaneous tic-like movements.
Bob Bowcock, an environmental scientist brought to Le Roy by environmental activist and lawyer Erin Brockovich, determined then that there was no TCE reaching the school property, and it was unlikely the spill site and the tics were linked (the girls were diagnosed with conversion disorder and no scientific evidence ever emerged to contradict that diagnosis).
Information about the spill site made public by the Environmental Protection Agency since then confirm Bowcock's analysis.
In 2017, the Lehigh Valley Railroad corporation, under the direction of the EPA and the DEC, completed a vapor-extraction program at the spill site.
Michael Basile, regional spokesman for the EPA, said the vapor removal effort, which lasted for two years, did remove some TCE, but vapor extraction cannot remove all of it.
"It has been determined that there is TCE embedded in the rock/gravel at the site that cannot be removed via the SVE system," Basile wrote in an email. "Consultants for the responsible party have recently completed a study that has looked at several remedial measures that may be feasible to address the contamination at the site. It is under review by EPA and New York State. EPA will determine the appropriate next steps."
TCE, or trichloroethylene, according to the EPA website, is "a volatile organic compound." It is a clear, colorless liquid that has a sweet odor and evaporates quickly. TCE is a toxic chemical with human health concerns."
After the Lehigh Valley derailment in 1970, a plume of TCE quickly spread to the east and southeast for about four miles, in a human-foot-shaped pattern and groundwater forces around it have kept it contained to that area. It has become embedded in the bedrock of the plume area making it impossible to completely remove.
Eventually, it will all evaporate as hydraulic action brings more and more of it to the surface, but that process will take five decades or more.
"Considering the railroad derailment occurred in December 1970 -- where it was estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 gallons of TCE were spilled onto the ground contaminating the soil and groundwater -- even with the most sophisticated hydrogeological equipment it is very difficult to estimate how much contamination still exists in the area," Basile said.
The EPA says current vapor levels in the plume area are generally below the levels of human health concerns.
Basile said 13 residences in the plume area have been affected by the spill and have vapor-mitigation systems installed in their homes and the EPA continues to monitor these properties.
The public water supply has been protected from the plume, according to the EPA.
"With the extension of the public water supply to the affected homes and businesses, the installation of the soil-vapor mitigation systems on the affected homes, plus continual monitoring of the groundwater, public health and safety concerns continue to be achieved," Basile said.
Top photo: Vapor removal pipes still in place at the derailment site. The vapor removal effort has ended but the pipes remain in place while the EPA and DEC evaluate what steps to take next.
FIle photo: What the site looked like in 2012. The barrels were removed within weeks after this photo was taken, which was during Bob Bowcock's inspection of the site.
Below is a video produced by the EPA in 2017 about the spill cleanup. It goes into a great amount of detail about the hydraulics of the spill, its history, and how it's being monitored and remediated.
In separate press releases today, the Environmental Protection Agency and federal lawmakers moved to assure the public that every possible safety measure is being taken to deal with a toxic plume in Le Roy.
The EPA announced that ongoing testing has confirmed earlier results about the concentration levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) in ground water and the location of the plume.
Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Kathy Hochul hailed the EPA for agreeing to further testing to see if the plume has moved into Livingston County.
It was created in a 1970 train derailment and came to renewed public light this winter when environmentalists with renowned environmental litigator Erin Brockovich visited Le Roy in response to local health concerns.
While even members of Brockovich's team ruled out a connection with the TCE plume and an outbreak of movement disorders among a few students at Le Roy High School, it appeared that the EPA had made no real progress at the Superfund clean-up site.
Both press releases are available after the jump (click on the headline to read more):
Prior to leaving Batavia, I made repeated requests to move closer to the work than just the gate at the front driveway of the site. EPA spokesperson Mary Mears said no each time, telling me I could get adequate pictures from Gulf Road and the television stations were satisfied with that location. When I arrived on site, I called Mears and repeated my request, telling her the distance and vehicles in the entryway obscured much of the activity. She said she would call the site manager and pass along my request.
My request was pretty clear and simple: Walk up the driveway, where no heavy equipment was operating and take pictures from outside the fenced area, where, again, no heavy equipment -- no equipment at all -- was operating.
The supervisor reportedly told Mears that it would be unsafe for me to walk in for closer photographs.
I walked to three different locations along the perimeter and using a long lens, took these photos -- the best I could get under the circumstances.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the removal of 235 drums from the Lehigh Railroad Derailment Superfund site in Le Roy, N.Y. will begin today. The EPA reviewed the sampling results for the contents of all the drums and in all cases considers them to be non-hazardous. The drums, which contain soil and rocks generated when wells were drilled at the site, were sampled during the past month.
A December 1970 train derailment resulted in the release of liquid trichloroethene (TCE) and cyanide crystals. The material in the drums was tested for these and other contaminants. No tested contaminants were detected in materials from 203 of the drums. In 32 of the drums, some detectable concentrations of contaminants were found.
Specifically, eight drums had detectable levels of TCE only, eight others had detectable levels of cyanide only and eight drums had detectable levels of both. One drum had detectable levels of TCE and cis-1,2-dichloroethene, which is a breakdown product of TCE. The remaining seven drums primarily had detections of either common lab contaminants or contaminants typically associated with petroleum products. These contaminants include: acetone, carbon disulfide, ethylbenzene, toluene, total xylenes, methylcyclohexane, and 2-butanone (MEK). In all cases the levels of these contaminants were low and are below health-based levels.
While the EPA considers the drums non-hazardous and eligible for disposal as non-hazardous waste, the Lehigh Valley Railroad has arranged for material to be disposed of at a landfill that is permitted to accept hazardous waste. The facility set to accept the waste is EQ-Wayne Disposal, Inc., Landfill in Belleville, Mich. Drum removal from the site will begin this morning and is expected to be completed by the end of the week. The Lehigh Valley Railraod will pay the cost of disposing of the drums, not taxpayers.
The EPA announced Thursday that barrels full of rock and soil from the site of a 1970 train derailment in Le Roy will be removed by the end of February.
Soil and rock material from the drilling of the groundwater monitoring wells was placed in drums and stored at the site in a fenced-in area. Based upon data previously collected from the drilling activities, this material is believed to be non-hazardous. The EPA has directed the railroad company to do sampling to evaluate the material in some of the drums so they can be removed and disposed of off-site. This work is expected to be completed and the drums removed by the end of February 2012.
UPDATE 5:23 p.m.: Press release from the office of Rep. Kathy Hochul:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – After Congresswoman Kathy Hochul spoke with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Judith Enck yesterday, Congresswoman Hochul, along with senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, announced that the EPA will remove barrels from the federal Superfund site in Le Roy by the end of February.
“I’m proud to announce that the EPA will finally help clean up LeRoy and will remove these barrels by the end of this month,” said Congresswoman Hochul. “The health and well-being of my constituents is my top priority and I am glad I was able to help remove these containers. Now we must ensure our local water supply and the soil is clean of any environmental threat.”
“Removing the barrels is absolutely the right thing to do, and I want to thank Administrator Enck and the EPA for getting it done,” said Senator Schumer. “Going forward, it’s going to be absolutely critical that we watch this site like a hawk and keep testing the area to monitor the plume and finish the remediation of this site. The EPA should also release the full December report so that everyone who lives, works, or attends school in the area has the information they need to understand what is being done to clean-up this site.”
“I am pleased to hear that the EPA will remove the barrels from this Superfund site,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. “The EPA must now continue testing and monitoring all areas around the site to assure residents there has been no further contamination. Everyone in Le Roy and Genesee County must know that their community is a safe place to live, visit, work, and raise a family.”
The removed drums will be tested to ensure they are sent to the proper disposal location. Quarterly testing is undertaken at the Superfund site and is next scheduled to take place this month, however Congresswoman Hochul, Senator Schumer, and Senator Gillibrand have sent a letter to the EPA calling on them to release December’s report to the public to ensure the contamination has not spread. A copy of the letter can be found here.
On Monday, Congresswoman Hochul sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson calling on the EPA to reevaluate the Superfund site. A copy of the letter can be found here.