Site Remediation Goes Global

by Jennie Saxe

Native plants at the Metal Bank site on the banks of the Delaware River.

Native plants at the Metal Bank site on the banks of the Delaware River.

From the road, the Metal Bank Superfund Site doesn’t look like much: a fenced-off parcel of land in an industrial part of northeast Philadelphia. But on an unusually warm October day, the site was actually a destination for travelers from halfway around the world.

The 10-acre Metal Bank site had operated as a scrap metal and transformer salvage facility where a company drained oil from used transformers to reclaim copper parts. These operations released oil to various locations on the property. With the site perched on the edge of the Delaware River, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the soils were also found in groundwater and in sediments in the river, posing a risk to animals, to people who may eat fish from the river, and to workers in the area.

But on the day that I visited the site with the Remedial Project Manager, one of EPA’s biologists, and a delegation from the Republic of Korea, we got to observe how EPA had all of those exposures under control. Construction was completed in 2010, and only the monitoring wells on the site were a visual reminder of the site’s past. We were able to share with the Korean delegation the ways in which EPA addressed risks at the site: soils and sediments were excavated; a sheet pile wall was installed to stabilize the site; “marine mattress” caps were installed to cover any remaining contaminants in the river; and those monitoring wells were installed to keep tabs on PCB levels in the groundwater.The cap on the site was even planted with native plants and wildflowers which were attracting pollinators and other wildlife to the site.

Marine mattress sections were lowered into place by crane.

Marine mattress sections were lowered into place by crane.

EPA hosts international groups to foster the spirit of cooperation across borders and share information that is critical for environmental protection. It’s heartening to know that the work we do in our own backyard may have a role in improving environmental conditions farther from home.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Office of Communications and Government Relations on tribal and international issues.

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