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Publicker Industries

EPA Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic)

Philadelphia County
Southeast Philadelphia

EPA ID# PAD981939200

1st Congressional District

Last Update: January 2015 - No Further Updates

Other Names

Cuyahoga Wrecking Plant

Current Site Status

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed the cleanup of the Publicker Industries Site (Site) in December 1997, making it the nation's 500th completed Superfund Site. In November 2000, the Publicker Industries Site was removed from the Superfund list. The Site is safe for industrial use and is being used to support an adjacent marine terminal.

Every five years EPA will check on the Site to make sure it is only used for industrial purposes. EPA conducted the fourth review of the Site and completed a report, Five-Year Review Report, dated January 15, 2010. The review found the Site safe for industrial use and protective of human health and the environment. The next five-year review will be completed January 2015.

Site Description

The Publicker Industries Superfund Site (Site) is located in Philadelphia along the Delaware River near the Walt Whitman Bridge. The Site covers approximately 40 acres. An estimated 3,600 people live within a mile of the Site, and 100,000 live within two miles. Currently, the Site is used in conjunction with the adjacent marine terminal to store and transport steel slabs.
Site Responsibility
Cleanup of this Site was the responsibility of federal and state governments, the Site owner, and parties potentially responsible for Site contamination.
NPL Listing History
This Site was proposed to the National Priorities List (NPL) on May 5, 1989. The Site was added to the NPL on October 4, 1989. The Site was removed from the NPL on November 1, 2000.

Threats and Contaminants

Publicker Industries produced liquor and industrial alcohols from 1912 to 1985. The Site was also used as a petroleum product and chemical storage facility during the late 1970's and 1980's. Publicker discontinued operations in February 1986 and eventually the Site was abandoned in November 1986.

The Site included large tanks, storage drums, product stock, chemical laboratories, production buildings, warehouses, a power plant, and several hundred miles of aboveground and underground process lines. Solid and liquid gas streams, highly-reactive lab wastes, and gas cylinders combined to create an extreme threat of fire and explosion. Pipes were insulated with asbestos and electrical equipment contained PCBs. Vessels and transfer lines containing hazardous materials were in disrepair and subject to vandalism. In 1987, the portion of the facility using carbon dioxide was destroyed in a multi-alarm fire. Routine air monitoring revealed volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in 1988. Shallow on-site groundwater was slightly contaminated with toluene. The deep groundwater aquifer contained minimal levels of VOCs such as toluene and xylene. VOCs and heavy metal contamination had been detected in on-Site soils.

The clean-up was completed in 1997. The Site is safe for industrial use and is being used to support an adjacent marine terminal.

Contaminant descriptions and risk factors are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC.

Cleanup Progress

From 1987 to 1988, EPA took the following emergency removal actions: bulked, stored, transported and disposed of waste in order to address fire and explosion threats. After addressing emergency conditions, EPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) that further stabilized site conditions using the following cleanup methods: transported bulked waste streams off-Site for disposal; demolished above-ground process lines after recovering their contents; transported these recovered line-contents off-Site for disposal; and properly packed and stored the asbestos-laden pipe insulation. These cleanup actions began in 1989 and were completed in 1990.

The second ROD, issued in June 1991, selected a remedy to remove the bagged asbestos. A fire in early 1992 delayed the cleanup work. The asbestos abatement work was eventually completed in May 1995.

An investigation of the source and extent of groundwater and soil contamination was completed and a third ROD was signed in December 1995. The major components of the ROD were: sealed and abandoned on-Site ground water wells; removed the liquids and sediments in contaminated electric utilities for treatment and off-site disposal; removed the liquids and sediments in contaminated storm water trenches and utilities for treatment and off-site disposal; and removed miscellaneous wastes for treatment and off-site disposal. The ROD additionally had a provision that future excavation work will be monitored. This cleanup work was finished in December 1997 and was marked the 500th completed Superfund Site.

After completion of all the cleanup work, EPA issued a final close-out report (FCOR) in March 2000. EPA performed a review of the Site and confirmed that the Site was successfully cleaned up and was safe for industrial use in a Five-Year Review Report, dated February 2000. EPA proposed that the Site be removed from the Superfund list on July 20, 2000. After receiving no comments, EPA removed the Publicker Industries Site from the Superfund list on November 1, 2000. Every five years, EPA will check on the Site to make sure it is only used for industrial purposes. EPA completed it's third and fourth Five-Year Reviews in January 2005 and January 2010, respectively, and again found the Site safe for industrial use.

Legal Activity

Concurrent with the investigation and cleanup of the Site, there were a series of legal actions taken by EPA in order to clean-up the site and recover costs the federal government spent. On July 7, 1987, EPA and Bruga Corporation signed a legal document, known as a Consent Order, formalizing Bruga's cleanup responsibilities for this Site. Under the Order, Bruga dismantled and decontaminated personal property in two portions of the Site it had purchased from the bankrupt estate. On December 8, 1988, EPA and AAA Warehousing Inc. entered into a separate Consent Order. Under this Order, AAA removed some stainless steel tanks and rail tank cars it owned. On December 19, 1990, EPA filed a cost recovery action against Publicker Industries and Cuyahoga Wrecking/Overland Corporation to recover government funds spent on the Site. Cuyahoga Wrecking/Overland Corporation filed for bankruptcy. The cost recovery case with Publicker Industries was settled on December 28, 1995. In this agreement, Publicker Industries agreed to pay the United States $13.35 million plus interest and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection $1 million plus interest.

Prospective Purchaser Agreement

The Publicker Industries Site is one of the first in the country where a new approach to Superfund liability – the Prospective Purchaser Agreement (PPA) – led to redevelopment and economic revitalization for the benefit of the community. The agreement, finalized in 1994 and amended in 1996, allowed the new owners to buy the Publicker Site knowing that, upon completion of cleanup activities, they would be released from liability for contamination caused by previous owners.

The parties that purchased the Publicker Site demolished and/or removed every building, retaining wall, tank, pipe and structural support that was present at purchase. They also performed the cleanup work as required in the third ROD. The Site is used for the storage of trailers, truck beds, machinery to transport steel beams and as a parking lot for the marine terminal.


Site Contacts

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Region 3 | Mid-Atlantic Cleanup | Mid-Atlantic Superfund |EPA Home | EPA Superfund Homepage

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