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Publicker Industries

Site Cleanup is Completed!

The Publicker Industries Superfund Site was one of the nation's first sites to use a Prospective Purchaser Agreement; these agreements were developed as part of EPA's Administrative Reforms of the Superfund Hazardous Waste Cleanup Program. As part of the Removing Liability Barrier Reform, these agreements encourage cleanup and redevelopment of hazardous waste sites by protecting purchasers from Superfund liability for pre-existing contamination. 

EPA's Superfund Program became involved with the site in 1987, when our Emergency Response section responded to a fire at the site. The photo to the left gives a sense of the size and complexity of the facility. EPA, along with the City of Philadelphia Fire Department, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other organizations, quickly responded to stop the threat. 

Today, EPA is proud to announce that the site cleanup is finished, and redevelopment is underway. By recycling this once-contaminated site, the community can look forward to not only having an enhanced environment, but also economic redevelopment and new jobs that the reuse of this site will bring. 

A large part of the work involved bulking the millions of gallons of hazardous materials that remained on Site. 

Site History 

The Publicker Industries Site (the site) is a former liquor/alcohol distillery located in the southeast portion of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bordered to the east by the Delaware River and to the north by the Ashland Chemical Company, the site's southern boundary extends to the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal. The western site boundary is Christopher Columbus Boulevard (formerly Delaware Avenue). The site is adjacent to and partially under the Walt Whitman Bridge, which spans the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. 

The site covers approximately 42 acres and previously contained the remains of nearly 440 structures including: large tanks, chemical laboratories, reaction vessels, production buildings, warehouses, and power plants. Most of the site structures and features had deteriorated due to weather, fire, and neglect. A series of seven alternating piers and slips still remain along the waterfront of the site. 

From 1912 to 1985, publicly-held Publicker Industries Inc. owned and operated a liquor and industrial alcohol manufacturing plant at the Site. The Publicker plant (plant) fermented potatoes, molasses, corn, and grains to form various kinds of alcohols. The alcohols were used in numerous products, including whiskey, solvents, cleansers, antifreeze, and rubbing alcohol. The plant's production peaked during World War II and again in the 1970s, employing over 1,000 people during those periods. The site also was used as a petroleum product and chemical storage facility during the late 1970s and early 1980s. A review of site records indicated that numerous chemicals had been manufactured or stored at the site during plant operation. 

Plant operations ended in February 1986 and, later that year, Publicker Industries sold the property to the Overland Corporation. Overland Corporation declared bankruptcy and abandoned the site in November 1986. 

Superfund Activities

From December 1987 to December 1988, under the Superfund program, EPA conducted an emerency removal action. This action included: 

In October 1989, the Site was added to the National Priorities List (NPL). Later that year, in June, EPA issued the first Record of Decision (ROD) for Operable Unit 1 (OU1) for the site. The cleanup of this OU included: 

EPA began these cleanup activities in October 1989 and completed the work in December 1990. The removal action and site stabilization under the first ROD cost approximately $13 million. 

In 1989, while conducting the cleanup for OU1, EPA began Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) activities for OU2 at the site. In June 1991, EPA issued the ROD for OU2, which called for removing much of the asbestos-containing materials from the site. 

In April 1992, a large fire at the site destroyed the building that EPA had been using to store bagged asbestos from the 1988 emergency removal activities. The fire only affected the buildings in the central portion of the site. 

As a result, EPA modified the cleanup design for OU2 to address changes at the site caused by the fire. EPA began cleanup work on this OU in February 1995 and completed the work in May 1995. The asbestos abatement under the second ROD cost approximately $1million. 

On December 28, 1995, EPA issued the third and final ROD for OU3 of the site. The major components of this ROD include: 

Contractors hired by Delaware Avenue Enterprises, an affiliate of Holt Cargo Systems, Inc., have conducted the cleanup work at the site, with the oversight of EPA and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). The cost estimated for this cleanup work is approximately $300,000. 

What Happens Next?

After the remediation is complete, EPA will compile a final report and propose to delete the site from the National Priorities List (NPL). This process will include a 30-day public comment period. 

Cost Recovery

Initially, EPA used money from the Superfund Trust Fund to pay for most of the site cleanup costs. EPA later attempted to get this money back through legal action, known as cost recovery. EPA filed a cost recovery case on December 19, 1990, against Publicker Industries and Cuyahoga Wrecking/ Overland Corporation. Because Cuyahoga Wrecking/Overland Corporation had filed for bankruptcy, EPA was unable to recover any costs from this company. However, EPA settled the cost recovery case with Publicker on December 28, 1995. Through a cost recovery agreement, Publicker agreed to pay EPA $13.35 million, plus interest, and PADEP $1 million, plus interest. This money helped to reimburse the Superfund Trust Fund for the cleanup costs EPA had incurred at the Publicker Industries Superfund Site. 

The Prospective Purchaser Agreement

In December 1994, EPA and PADEP finalized a Prospective Purchaser Agreement for the site. Prospective Purchaser Agreements were developed as part of EPA's Administrative Reforms. These agreements are tools that grew out of the Agency's liability reform efforts. They are designed to encourage cleanup and redevelopment of hazardous waste sites by protecting the purchaser from Superfund liability for pre-existing contamination. The prospective purchaser of the site property is a group (collectively called the "Parties") consisting of : 

Under the Agreement, the Parties agreed to demolish and/or remove many of the buildings and other structures still remaining at the site. They also planned to build a pier after obtaining a Clean Water Act Section 404/Rivers and Harbors Act Section 10 permit (permit). Holt, in conjunction with the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, will operate the pier and other support facilities planned for construction. Already, the Parties have completed most of the demolition work, although the permit for the pier constructionis pending. 

In exchange for the liability protection, the Parties agreed to pay EPA and PADEP a total of $2.3 million. Additionally, the agreement stated that the Parties may petition EPA to allow them to perform a particular portion, or all of the cleanup response work outlined in the ROD for OU3. The value of such work may offset any payment balances still outstanding to EPA and/or PADEP under this Agreement. 

In January 1996, DAE petitioned EPA to perform the work outlined in the ROD. The Parties, EPA, and PADEP signed an amendment to the Prospective Purchaser Agreement on December 19, 1996. With EPA's approval, DAE has demolished most of the on-site structures. DAE has addressed any miscellaneous wastes encountered during the demolition as required by the ROD remedy. 

This Prospective Purchaser Agreement allows future development of the property. It restores the site to the City of Philadelphia's tax rolls and allows for construction of a modern marginal port facility. This improves the value of the site and will create an estimated 500 jobs. 


Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), or Superfund:
A federal law passed in 1980, and modified in 1986, by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. The Act created a trust fund, known as Superfund, to investigate and cleanup abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.
National Priorities List (NPL):
EPA's list of the nation's most serious hazardous waste sites that are eligible to receive federal money for long-term cleanup under Superfund.
Operable Unit (OU):
A portion of a Superfund site that has been separated conceptually from the rest of the site to allow for easier management.
Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs):
Companies or individuals identified by EPA as potentially liable under CERCLA for cleanup costs. PRPs may include generators and present or former owners/operators of certain facilities or property where hazardous wastes have been stored, treated or disposed of, as well as those who accepted hazardous waste for transport and selected the facility.
Record of Decision (ROD):
A legal document that describes the final remedial actions selected for a Superfund site, why the remedial actions were chosen and others not, how much they cost, and how the public responded.
Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS):
A two-part study of a hazardous waste site that supports the selection of a remedial action for a site. The RI identifies the nature and extent of contamination at the site. The FS identifies and evaluates alternatives for addressing the contamination.

For More Information

To get additional information about the Publicker Industries Superfund Site, contact one of the EPA representatives below. 

Lisa Brown (3HW43)

Fran Costanzi (3HW21)

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