Superfund cleanup in Moon to close section of Montour Trail

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Land polluted with industrial chemicals in the vicinity of milepost 0 on the Montour Trail in Moon will be confined in a giant covered “bathtub,” according to federal officials overseeing cleanup of the 7-acre Breslube-Penn Superfund site.

“What will occur is that crews will dig a large trench around the perimeter of the area where contamination exists,” Bonnie Smith, spokeswoman for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said. “That trench will be filled with an impermeable, cement-like material that will hold the contaminants.” The bottom of the “tub” will be natural bedrock and the top will have a similarly waterproof cover.

Like a bathtub, the containment vessel will have a small drain, according to Bhupi Khona, remedial project manager for the EPA. Water coming out of the tub will pass through an active carbon filter designed to hold pollutants.

While no start date has been announced for the project, EPA officials said they remain hopeful that work can begin this summer. “It would be best to do this project within one construction season,” Ms. Smith said.

Private contractors will do the work and the cleanup will be under the supervision of the EPA. Federal officials are working with the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Montour Trail Council.

Project monitoring will involve collecting and testing water samples inside and outside the site.

"We want to make sure the contaminants remain inside the waste containment area,” she said.

A portion of the popular biking-and-hiking trail and the large parking lot at its “Mile 0” marker adjacent to Route 51 will be closed for varying periods once the Superfund environmental remediation project gets underway.

“We understand why this area has to be closed off for the safety of everyone,” Trail Council president Dennis Pfeiffer said. His organization will work to keep trail users up-to-date on the status of the project with signs and website information.

Sarah Vergenes, who lives in Coraopolis near the trailhead, said she recognized the logic behind the need for a temporary shutdown of the trail. “It will be inconvenient, but they have to do what they have to do,” she said. She and her young son, Cameron, are regular walkers on the trail.

The Justice Department and the EPA announced almost five years ago that they had reached an agreement with 36 companies linked to contamination at the Breslube-Penn site. The settlement provides $12 million for future cleanup costs, a $3 million reimbursement to the EPA for its past expenses and $41,000 to the state for its enforcement and response costs. The government previously had reached $4.2 million in settlements with other companies.

The Breslube-Penn property adjoins the Montour Trail and is within 50 feet of Montour Run, a tributary of the Ohio River that is popular with anglers. Warning signs posted on the fence around the property identify it as a federal cleanup site. The land was home to a fat-rendering plant and later used for fuel oil recycling.

The trench planned around the property will be as much 15 feet deep and 3 feet wide. Excavation will be done with heavy construction equipment, officials said.

“When crews are digging, there will be dust in the air and heavy truck traffic,” Mr. Khona said. “You don’t want people nearby.”

A tentative calendar indicates that once work commences, the trail and the “Mile 0” parking lot will be off-limits for more than a month. The lot and trail may be open on Sundays.

With the trailhead spaces unavailable, the closest parking lots are at Hassam Road (Mile 1.4), Beaver Grade Road (Mile 3.1) and Montour Run Road (Mile 4.4). A trail map and driving instructions are available at the website www.montourtrail.org.

Congress created the Superfund program in 1980 in response to the Love Canal chemical-storage scandal in New York. The law charged the EPA with identifying those responsible for industrial pollution sites and reaching agreements with them to correct problems. The EPA then oversees the remediation.

The Breslube-Penn settlement said that the rendering plant and oil recycling operations had contaminated soil and groundwater with a variety of chemicals and other pollutants. They include volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, metals and cyanide.


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.

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