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DEP, Cyprus examine AZC site

September 13, 2009

SLOVAN, Pa. - Dozens of local residents attended a meeting held jointly by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cyprus Amax Minerals Co. to discuss initial testing at the American Zinc and Chemical Co. site, which is located between the villages of Slovan and Langeloth and Burgettstown borough.

The 155-acre site, which has been largely abandoned for approximately 60 years, was once the location of a zinc smelting facility.

Random sampling has been done throughout the site, including in the western area, the former furnace area, the smelting waste area and the area near Burgetts Fork.

The highest levels of contaminants were found in the furnace areas, according to Terry E. Goodwald, DEP project officer.

"It's what you'd expect to find when arsenic and heavy metals have been roasted," said Goodwald.

At the highest levels of contamination, testing found approximately 23,000 parts per million of lead. A safe level is 1,000 parts per million. Testing shows 217 parts per million of arsenic, while a safe level is 53 parts per million. There are 564 parts per million of cadmium, while 210 parts per million is safe. There were 454,000 parts per million of zinc, while 190,000 parts per million is safe, according to the DEP.

"Is the site unsafe?" said Goodwald. "The answer is yes, in the shape it is now."

Goodwald said direct contact with the contaminants, including inhaling or ingesting them, could be harmful. Other materials on the site include copper, tin and antimony.

"We need to figure out how much of the materials are there and the extent of the contamination," said Goodwald. "Before we could even begin to remediate the site, we would have to have much more information."

DEP officials are unsure where the actual ground level is, because waste from the zinc ovens and from area mines have been dumped at the site.

"A lot of dumping has occurred up there," said Goodwald.

He said he believed the site can be remediated, although the DEP needs more information before they can devise a plan, but he believes water sources could potentially be redirected so they do not flow through the site. He also discussed potential treatment of the site, including possibly removing the materials or covering them. The site could become an industrial park, he said.

There are different allowable levels for a residential area and an industrial area, and Goodwald said he doubted the site could become a residential area, but there was potential to develop an industrial park or similar at the site.

He noted part of the site was now part of the Langeloth Metallurgical Co., and it has been partially remediated.

The surface water has been tested and there are higher levels of contaminants downstream, said Goodwald.

"It indicates that we do have release into the water," said Goodwald, noting some of the waste piles come to the edge of the streams and when there are heavy rains, waste was being washed off the piles and into the stream.

Sampling of ground water will be part of the investigation, Goodwald said.

There are several structures which have been demolished, but the zinc ovens, which have been pulled over, and the ore pits remain.

"There are plenty of physical hazards up there," said Goodwald. "(The ore pits) are a real hazard for children; for anyone, really. A few years back, in the 70s, someone drowned in one of those."

There also are tunnels which go into the hillside beneath the zinc ovens, the purpose of which is no longer known, although Goodwald conjectured they may have been used for rail cars hauling zinc. However, surface water in the tunnels have been found to contain sulfuric acid, a zinc byproduct, although the pH levels are low, said Goodwald.

In addition, there are concerns benzene, gasoline and other solvents could be contaminating the area around the former maintenance shop and fuel station, and there is an on-site power plant which may contain contaminants.

AZC is now a subsidiary of Cyprus Amax. The site is currently owned by Smith Township, seven acres; Peterson Industries, 30 acres; Langeloth Metallurgical Co., 38 acres; and Bologna Coal Co., 80 acres.

The estimated $1.2 million cost for the remediation of the site will be shared by Cyprus Amax, which will pay 60 percent of the costs, and the DEP, which will pay 40 percent of the costs.

State funding will be through the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act. The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act is funded through a tax paid by chemical companies, the general fund and funds recouped from property owners who have been found liable in prior cleanups.

Some of those in attendance questioned whether the property owners would be responsible for any of the cleanup costs, and Ed Stokan, a DEP attorney, noted the DEP has the option of either litigation or negotiation with property owners, if officials believe they should be responsible for a portion of the costs.

The DEP will sign two separate consent agreements with Cyprus Amax. The first is for the study, including data collection and evaluation, a feasibility study, a risk assessment and remediation plan. This will be undertaken by Cyprus Amax, at the company's cost, under DEP's oversight, explained Ronald Buchanan, Cyprus Amax remediation projects manager.

"We consider this a legacy site," said Buchanan, adding Cyprus Amax had not had any operations on the site. "It's the subsidy of a subsidy owned by our company."

Buchanan said Cyprus Amax would take 40 to 50 waste samples and core samples, 40 ground water samples with two separate rounds of testing at 200 feet below the surface, 25 samples of surface water with two rounds of testing and 25 sediment samples. Core samples will go down to the bedrock and help determine the depth of the contaminants and how much topsoil is between the contaminants and the bedrock.

He added sampling is scheduled to begin in mid-September and would take three to four months, with additional testing occurring in the spring. It will take four to six months to finish the report, and the remediation likely will begin approximately a year from now, said Buchanan.

"We got a can of worms and we have to find out how big and deep a can of worms," said Buchanan.

The second part will be the remediation, the costs of which will be split between Cyprus Amax, 60 percent, and the DEP, 40 percent, according to Stokan.

Both consent orders are viewable at the DEP's Web site at DEP officials said they will make the second consent order available in hard copy at the Smith Township municipal building in Slovan. Those having comments on the consent orders may submit them within 60 days of the publication of the order, and all public comments will be taken into consideration, said Stokan.

DEP officials explained the site is not considered a brownfield, because a brownfield is a former industrial site that has been remediated and is ready for development. The AZC site has worse contamination than a brownfield would, said DEP officials.

"Once the site is investigated and remediated, it could be very conductive to industry," said Stokan.

Smith Township Supervisors have been working to develop an industrial park on the site, receiving a Local Shares grant in the last round to rehabilitate a bridge and road going into the township's seven acres.

(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at

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