AMBLER >> Recent activity at the Bast tract, where Ambler Crossings Development Partners LP plans to remediate the contaminated 4.6-acre parcel and build a 115-unit apartment complex, has stirred fears that the asbestos is being disturbed without due caution.
Diane Morgan, a member of the BoRit CAG, established to represent the interests of communities surrounding the 32-acre BoRit asbestos area near the intersection of Ambler and Whitpain and Upper Dublin townships, said May 25 she feared the work would cause asbestos fibers to go airborne or be washed into the Wissahickon Creek.
A longtime opponent of construction on the asbestos-contaminated sites associated with the former Keasbey & Mattison asbestos plant, Morgan said, “Once borough council voted on it, there was no recourse. It shouldn’t be built on; that’s the bottom line.”
In 2013, Ambler Borough Council approved plans for the three-building apartment complex on the Bast site on Maple Avenue near Chestnut Street. A cleanup plan was approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which is to oversee the remediation effort.
The DEP, however, has no enforcement capability, it can only issue fines, said Borough Council member Sharon McCormick, the only council member to vote against the plan.
There was a “visible emission” of asbestos in 2010 when buildings on the site were taken down, “but DEP didn’t do anything,” she said. “Some building debris sat in the street for four years; there was 50 percent asbestos in the rubble.”
Morgan questioned the ability of a green sock around the perimeter of the site to keep any asbestos-containing dirt from going over to the sidewalk or filter out microscopic fibers traveling through the water.
A water suppression system will be used to contain airborne particles on the site, but Morgan said she did not see a decontamination unit to filter and decontaminate the water from the site, which is going into an on-site detention basin and slowly migrating into the Wissahickon Creek.
“At the end of the day the soil should be covered and it’s not,” she said. “I’m worried about the evaporation of asbestos-laden dirt.”
She also said she feared the adjacent SEPTA trains would blow asbestos-laden dirt off the site.
The development represents the first residential construction project on an asbestos waste disposal site in the United States, Morgan said, “and it should have extraordinary supervision.”
“The central question is how is it possible that a parcel 10 feet away from a Superfund site is going to have an apartment complex with a pool and green space for children to play on,” she said. The Ambler Piles “are failing and required more than $1 million to repair again.”
“The EPA told Ambler over and over again asbestos waste can’t be dug into,” McCormick said. “Why the same concern is not on the same waste a few feet away [from the Superfund site] makes no sense to me.”
“I understand these are real concerns,” Borough Manager Mary Aversa said May 25, but “just because they see someone out there, they’re not doing any remediation work right now.”
If remediation was being done, permits would have been issued, she said, and “no permits have been issued for remedial work.
“We’re looking into this and are not aware of any construction. Nothing has been submitted for permits.
“There are four watering devices on site, and air sampling is being conducted every day,” Aversa said. “There are mechanisms in place to prevent discharge into the Wissahickon Creek, claiming that they are not is incorrect.
“If there was any potential for a discharge into the Wissahickon Creek, I would be down there and calling everyone myself,” she said.
The sock is “an approved device by the DEP,” Aversa said.
“The EPA and DEP are the agencies that approve development on any contaminated site,” she said. It’s not in the borough’s jurisdiction.
“The DEP will go door-to-door to let residents know” when construction is about to begin, she said. Once construction does start, “we will keep an eye on it.”
“It’s upsetting to people, I get that,” said Aversa, noting she, too lives in the borough. “Once a plan is in place, we will see that it’s followed. Safety is our No. 1 priority.”
DEP spokeswoman Virginia Cain said in a June 2 email that the current work at Bast involves authorized site clearing activities, and that several DEP programs are overseeing the work.
“To date, DEP has not found any non-compliance with the current activities,” she said. “The developer sends weekly air monitoring results to DEP, as well as documentation of dust suppression efforts. The activities also comply with the Act 2 (Land Recycling) process and the issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
“Inspectors from the DEP Air Quality program conduct routine inspections to ensure wet suppression techniques are being used and that no fugitive dust emissions are created,” she said.
The area is currently being regraded in preparation for the construction of foundations, according to a notice to the DEP from RT Environmental Services Inc. laying out the steps for redevelopment of the site — grading, utility installation, filling low-lying area to subgrade, construction of foundations and installation of the final cap, a combination of asphalt, concrete and soil.
According to the notice, preconstruction work began with installation of silt socks to control erosion and three dust suppression misting systems. Vegetation not impacted by asbestos containing soil was to be mulched and shipped offsite for reuse.
Debris and municipal waste on the site was to be removed and properly disposed of and remaining concrete crushed and stockpiled for reuse as fill. All crushing activities were to be done under wet conditions to minimize potential generation of dust, and all asbestos containing soil was to be “stockpiled and covered at the end of each day,” the notice says. “The soil will be placed beneath the building foundations and/or used as structural fill.”
According to the notice, the pool “will be eliminated from final design plans.”
Both Morgan and McCormick maintain the site should not be built on.
“They feel they can meet requirements by capping it and building on it,” Morgan said. “Toxins go with the water and underground animals burrow up and disturb the area. It’s a potential for disaster — not tomorrow, but 30 years from now.”
Noting there is no way to stop the project, since it’s been approved, McCormick said, “If you’re going to do it, you have to do it safely.” Several residents have called her with complaints, she said. “Safety protocol measures should be visibly made better.
“DEP should be making sure safety equipment is there to make sure citizens are not exposed.”