The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed how it will tackle soils, sediment and ground water at the superfund site in the state of New York.

It said the priority will be to deal with the contaminated soils at the surface, which are more easily accessible and pose a greater risk to human health.

Contaminated sediment in a river tributary, which has received stormwater from the site near the towns of Guilderland and Colonie, will also have to be dried and disposed off at an off-site landfill.

However, some of the contaminated soils are more difficult to remove and will have to be treated in place using a technology that solidifies the soil to prevent the mercury spreading into groundwater.

“While the most immediate risks posed by this site were addressed by others many years ago, mercury is still present at levels that can be dangerous if people are directly exposed,” said Alan Steinberg, EPA’s regional administrator for the region.

“This cleanup plan will take care of that potential threat.”

Although the groundwater is not currently used as a drinking water source, there are fears that people could come into direct contact with the soil or water.

The contamination dates back to when the site was home to the Mercury Refining Company (MERECO) from the mid-1950s to 1998, which recovered, refined and sold mercury from batteries, thermometers, dental amalgam and other sources.

Prior to 1980, waste contaminated with mercury was dumped over an embankment to the south of the MERCO property. As well as contaminated the soil locally, stormwater also washed mercury into a nearby river tributary.

Samples taken by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) around the tributary in the early 1980s uncovered the extent of the problem.

More information on the site and EPA’s plans can be found here.

Kate Martin

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