Remediation work on lower Grasse River area resuming this month

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Posted April 8, 2019

MASSENA — Remediation work in the lower Grasse River area, known as the Grasse River Superfund Site, will resume this month. But some nearby residents say they’re concerned about the possibility of air contamination around their homes.

However, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials say they have a monitoring system in place to ensure that doesn’t happen, and there were no instances of it occurring in 2005, when a higher level of remediation work was done.

Richards Street resident Donald J. Lucas was among those voicing their concerns about the potential for contamination during a public hearing Wednesday night in Massena. He said he’s concerned that a shift in the wind could cause hazardous airborne chemicals to reach his property, despite the monitoring systems put in place by the EPA.

Another area resident said he was also concerned about the potential for airborne contamination for those living along the river who will have to remove their docks so work can be done in that area.

“I think the biggest concern is what’s going to be in the air. I live one block west of the plant. I don’t think I’m being protected in my neighborhood” if the wind shifts, Mr. Lucas said. “I don’t feel comfortable at all with the way you’re setting up monitoring.”

EPA officials, however, say there will be continuous monitoring in several locations to address those concerns. Air and water monitoring will be performed during construction. Air monitoring will include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dust and volatile organic compounds. Water monitoring will include PCBs and solids.

“This is a standard and quite robust monitoring plan. As dredging moves down (the river), mobile monitoring will also move down. You capture monitoring data where it’s going to be the highest,” Young Chang, an EPA remedial project manager, said.

“We acknowledge the wind can shift. (Monitoring) is not limited to just the downwind portion,” she said.

Dredging is scheduled to begin this month to clean up sediment contaminated with PCBs at the Alcoa Aggregation in Massena. The contamination is a result of past waste disposal practices at the Alcoa West (now Arconic) facility.

Since 2013, Arconic has been working out the details of how the dredging and capping will be carried out, under EPA oversight. In 2013, the EPA selected a cleanup plan for the site that called for dredging and capping of PCB-contaminated sediment in a 7.2-mile stretch of river. Arconic is performing the work, which is estimated at $243 million, under an EPA order.

Ms. Chang said some equipment and project crews are already on site, ready to begin work this month. The overall goal is to reduce PCB levels in fish and other organisms in the river for the long‐term protection of human health and the environment. The remedy was issued in the EPA’s 2013 Record of Decision.

During the 2019 dredging season, mechanical dredges will be used to remove PCB-contaminated sediment from near-shore areas of the project using environmental buckets. The excavated sediment will be taken by barge to a staging area next to the river, near the intersection of county Route 42 and state Route 131 for off-loading, processing and de-watering.

Contaminated sediment will be collected and pre-treated at the staging area before it’s sent to the Arconic West plant for additional treatment and subsequent discharge into the Grasse River. Processed sediment will be loaded into dump trucks and taken to a permitted landfill at the Arconic West plant.

Dock owners in the area have been advised if and when their docks must be removed for work to continue, and when they can be placed back after backfilling with clean material is completed.

Ms. Chang said the EPA anticipates 2019 work being done 12 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week. The schedule, however, may be readjusted to include night and weekend shifts if necessary, she said.

She said noise levels will be monitored, and lighting will be necessary for worker safety. However, anyone who encounters issues with the noise or light can contact the EPA to share their concerns.

The dredging portion of the cleanup is expected to be completed by late fall. Beginning in 2020, clean material will be placed in the river’s main channel to encapsulate PCB contamination in the river bottom. The dredging, capping and habitat reconstruction work is expected to take approximately four years to complete.