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EPA’s Mobile Lab Helps Clean Up Vermont Community

2012 August 27
By Larry Kaelin with Mike Nalipinski
EPA’s PHILIS mobile labs

EPA’s PHILIS mobile labs

In the spring of 2011, heavy rains flooded the area of Stevens Brook in St. Albans, VT, and residents at the Colony Square Apartments noticed potentially cancer-causing coal tar waste in a sump in their basement. St. Albans city employees also noticed coal tar wastes in several area manholes while residents in the area noted an oily odor.

 Hurricane Irene came through in August of 2011 and only made the situation worse. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC) requested assistance from EPA in May of this year to help figure out if coal tar waste had indeed contaminated the Colony Square Apartments and residential properties of Stevens Brook.  

A team of EPA responders, including myself and EPA On-Scene Coordinator Mike Nalipinski, promptly arrived with a new mobile laboratory known as PHILIS. PHILIS, short for Portable High-throughput Integrated Laboratory Identification System, provides EPA and our response partners in need with the latest in mobile sampling technology. 

By using PHILIS, we obtained more than 250 samples of soil, sump water, sediment, gas and indoor air from ten residential properties over a four day period, to determine the extent of coal tar waste contamination. PHILIS identified several contaminants of concern including cancer-causing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), which occur naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline. Because PHILIS was available, we were able to provide same-day certified data, which made it possible to quickly determine how to best proceed with the cleanup.  

St. Albans, VT cleanup site

St. Albans, VT cleanup site

Without PHILIS, we might have had to send the samples to an off-site laboratory, and the process would have taken more time—time that could have been spent on beginning the cleanup and protecting the community.  

It took less than 90 days from the initial sample by PHILIS, to the removal of approximately 2,400 tons of contaminated soil, to restoring the property back to use. 

About the authors:  Larry Kaelin is a chemist with the EPA’s Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Consequence Management Advisory Team.  Mike Nalipinski is an On Scene Coordinator (OSC) in EPA Region 1 with many years of experience cleaning up Superfund sites.   

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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