OLEAN — Industrial contamination from decades ago has been found in a small section of east Olean once thought to have been sufficiently cleansed of hazardous, cancer-causing substances.
Late Wednesday afternoon, officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced recent tests to the ground underneath an Alcas Cutlery Corp. manufacturing facility showed the presence of harmful substances found in paint, solvents, automotive products and disinfectants, among others. The EPA is proposing an update to the 31-year-old plan to clean the 1.5-square-mile section of the Olean Well Field Superfund Site where Alcas is located.
According to a copy of the update posted online, environmental authorities plan to inject chemicals into the soil to break down contaminants found in the groundwater into less harmful compounds, such as water and carbon dioxide. Along the Alcas facility’s southern portion, the EPA plans to add nonhazardous compounds into the groundwater, such as lactate and vegetable oil, to help speed up the breakdown of contaminants. Environmental authorities will then routinely test groundwater for contamination. Should the proposed environmental remediation method be found ineffective, the EPA will excavate the contaminated soil.
The EPA is hosting a public meeting on the proposed cleanup at 7 p.m. Aug. 5 at Jamestown Community College’s CUTCO Theater in Olean.
Mayor Bill Aiello said he received a copy of the EPA’s report on the newly discovered contamination and its proposed remediation.
“I really hope that people who are concerned about this turn out for this public hearing and make their opinion known,” he said. “I know the EPA has been monitoring that area for a while now.”
The mayor said he did speak with Mary George, the city’s Community Development coordinator, who has been in contact with the EPA regularly about the well field cleanup.
“She told me that there is no threat to drinking water because there was work previously to connect houses in that area up to city water lines,” he said.
The Times Herald was unable to reach an EPA spokesperson by press time.
The well field is not unlike the 500 acres of brownfields in north Olean where industrial contamination dating back to the 1800s has impeded redevelopment
The area includes 53 water wells, homes and manufacturing facilities. The Allegheny River and Olean and Haskell creeks also flow through the site.
In 1981, local and environmental authorities found several chemicals — primarily trichloroethylene (TCE), a substance used as an industrial degreaser — contaminating the ground and water within the site. An EPA study identified four properties — including those owned by AVX, Alcas, the former McGraw Edison now Cooper Industries Inc. and the former Loohn’s Dry Cleaners and Launderers property.
Environmental authorities put the 1.5 square-mile site, which spanned the eastern section of the city into the town of Olean, into a superfund in 1983. The classification meant that those found responsible for the contamination would pay to have the land and groundwater cleansed of hazardous substances.
During the years that followed, AVX, Cooper and Alcas took action to remove contamination from their sections of the well field area.
Some 5,000 feet of sewer lines at the site were replaced or cleaned. Water mains were also extended to provide safe fire hydrants for the community. Cooper’s industrial sewer was inspected, and necessary repairs and replacements were made. At AVX, approximately 5,055 tons of contaminated soils were excavated. Wells near the Alcas section of the superfund were pumped empty of contaminated water. Private residences using water wells within the site’s boundaries were connected to the city’s water system.
At the former Loohn’s Dry Cleaners, more than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil were removed from the site and the dry cleaning building was demolished. At the time of the cleanup, Loohn’s Dry Cleaners no longer existed.
The EPA estimated work to remove contaminates from the ground and groundwater cost upwards of $2 million.
Throughout the superfund area, groundwater monitoring systems and air scrubbers were installed to check contamination levels. In 2004, after the bulk of the cleanup was completed, the EPA determined the site’s conditions no longer posed an immediate threat to public health. At the time the EPA made its determination, officials were unaware of the contamination now found under the Alcas facility.
(Contact reporter Christopher Michel at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHChris)