Option eyed for GHS soil remediation

From left, Malcolm Beeler,  deputy project manager for AECOM, and town Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Dave Thompson, explain options to the Board of Education for field remediation.

From left, Malcolm Beeler, deputy project manager for AECOM, and town Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Dave Thompson, explain options to the Board of Education for field remediation.
— Ken Borsuk photo

No final decisions have been made, but the Board of Education appears to be zeroing in on a remediation plan for the fields at Greenwich High School.

Contaminated soil, including with PCBs, was found at the facility close to two years ago during summer construction for the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project, and since then there has been continued testing by the town of the impacted areas as well as work with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about a remediation plan.

At a Board of Education work session on April 4, Dave Thompson, the town’s deputy commissioner for the Department of Public Works, and Malcolm Beeler, a deputy project manager for AECOM, the environmental consultants contracted by the town for the remediation, discussed the options with the board and focused on what is unofficially known as “risk based option three.” Under this plan, which he recommended to the board, Mr. Beeler said soil would be removed at different levels, ranging between one and three feet deep, throughout the contaminated areas depending on the contamination.

“This option has one in a million cumulative lifetime human risk,” Mr. Beeler said. “We actually bumped that up because this is a school and we wanted to do what’s right.”

The contamination is thought to have been caused by bad fill used during the initial construction of the school decades ago. On a map of the area, Mr. Beeler showed “areas of concern” where the fill had been used and also where, in undeveloped areas of the property, higher-than-typical levels of arsenic were found. Mr. Beeler said he believes that arsenic to be naturally occurring.

Throughout the meeting, Mr. Beeler stressed that interim remedial measures for the fields have been put in place and that the site is considered safe for use for sports and school activities. He said that measures taken to keep the contaminated soil from being spread to other areas appear to be working. Mr. Beeler said there has been a “very extensive investigation” done with more than 1,200 soil samples and 90 groundwater samples taken along with sediment and surface water samples. Ambient air and soil vapor has also been tested. Additionally, a human health risk assessment was done by AECOM prior to the options’ being put forward.

“Not all exposures to chemicals result in adverse health effects,” Mr. Beeler said. “You use household cleaners. You take aspirin for a headache. You may occasionally have a glass of wine and the antioxidants in the red wine may actually be helpful. But if you were to drink a household cleaner and get a large exposure, if you were to take the whole bottle of aspirin or if you were to drink a bottle of wine routinely, you’ve increased your exposure. There’s a hazard in all those products and then you have risk. The dose is important.”

If the recommended option is taken, the preliminary cost would be between $13 million and $20 million and work would be done over the course of two years. There were a total of three options considered, and each had different costs, with the most expensive one removing deeper levels of soil under the most stringent standards and the least expensive one going for less removal, of only one foot, with no work done on the artificial turf fields. The recommended option is considered a “hybrid” of the other two.

“This is cost-effective,” Mr. Beeler said. “We are getting a very high reduction in risk for the dollar amount proposed, and it does incorporate ongoing maintenance and monitoring.”

Once the board decides on an option, it will make the recommendation to both the EPA and the DEEP and work could begin. This is expected to happen during the summers when school is not in session and no activities are scheduled for the fields.

Because of the nature of the discussion, the board did break from the typical process and held a public hearing, which is usually reserved for the full monthly meetings and not work sessions. Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty said this was done because the board wanted public input.

Bill Effros, who has battled with the district over the course of several construction projects because of the proximity of his home to the property, spoke out and said there were many open questions left about the impact of the cleanup and the contamination of the soil.

“The feasibility study recommendation is, in essence, suggesting a far lower level of safety for the remediation than is permitted by the EPA and DEEP,” Mr. Effros said. “Why does the Board of Education believe that the EPA and/or DEEP would accept lower levels of protection for our children? How can the board seek public input on a decision to accept some level of risk from a lower standard without fully first exploring and explaining what those risks are that the board is apparently willing to take on on behalf of those exposed to them?”

Johann Thalheim, father of four children who have come through GHS, worried that the cleanup could make things worse by creating more exposure to the contaminated soil.

“If it’s a dry summer, you could have dust,” Mr. Thalheim said. “If we have a storm like Irene, all of a sudden things flow downstream that have now been brought up to the surface that could cause more contamination. … I think the thing that hasn’t been discussed is literally capping what is there instead of letting it get up into the air or the water with runoff. Apparently they’re not closing off any of the HVAC units in the summer. If I had a kid there I would be concerned about their health and well-being.”

His concerns were addressed during the discussion at the work session between Mr. Beeler and the board, as board member Nancy Kail also wondered what the rise in extreme weather conditions would have on the remediation. Mr. Beeler noted that tests were most recently done after the February blizzard, so there is information already about the impact of storms, and because this is such a flat area there will not be a lot of flow into the water.

“PCBs are considered semi-volatile organic compounds, which means they don’t jump into the air,” Mr. Beeler said. “If you spill some gasoline you will smell it right away because it is volatile and fills the area you are in very quickly. PCBs get volatile, but only very slowly, and they need to be under fairly warm conditions to do that.”

Mr. Beeler said there are risks with breathing it in and swallowing dust, but said steps can be taken to prevent exposures and are part of the risk assessment. During the remediation, he said, dust will be monitored continuously during any work, and if it gets too high, a water truck can be used to mist it down to keep it moist. Runoff can also be prevented, and the project would need approval from the town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency for those measures to be installed.


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