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Dredging of Contaminated St. Lawrence River Sediments Near Reynolds Metals Company Site in Massena, NY is Underway

Release Date: 06/19/2001
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(#01071) NEW YORK, N.Y. – More cleanup work is underway in the St. Lawrence River as the project to dredge more than 77,000 cubic yards of chemically-contaminated river sediments adjacent to the Reynolds Metals Company (RMC) facility in Massena, New York has begun and is scheduled to be completed this November. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will oversee the $47 million Superfund cleanup, which will be financed by the company and conducted by its contractors. The RMC facility is an active aluminum production plant at which past operations caused chemical contamination of the plant property and the adjacent river sediments with primarily polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is overseeing separate cleanup work that addresses contamination on the RMC property. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be on-site full time to oversee the work, and conduct independent monitoring of the cleanup progress. The NYSDEC, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the Canadian government will also monitor the dredging work and take independent samples.

EPA and its technical support team, along with representatives from NYSDEC, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and RMC are holding a public information session on June 28, 2001 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Akwesasne Housing Authority Building.

PCBs are oily chemicals, once used for coolants in electrical equipment, that can enter the body through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. EPA has determined that PCBs cause cancer in laboratory animals and probably cause cancer in humans. Other serious health effects have been observed in animals exposed to PCBs. The greatest health risk is associated with the ingestion of PCB-contaminated fish caught in the St. Lawrence River by residents and anglers. The New York State Department of Health has issued a fish consumption advisory for the area of the river impacted by the contamination that is still in effect.

"This is another significant action in EPA's overall strategy for addressing contaminated sediments in the St. Lawrence River in the vicinity of Massena," Acting EPA Regional Administrator William J. Muszynski said. "EPA believes that its coordinated approach, which involves EPA, state, tribal, and Canadian efforts at the Reynolds, General Motors and Aluminum Company of America facilities in Massena, will result in a notable improvement in the health of the St. Lawrence River and greater protection of local communities," he added.

The cleanup will involve the dredging of river sediments in over 30 acres of the river bottom that are contaminated with several chemicals, including PCBs above 1 part per million (ppm). The most contaminated section of the river bottom is the area closest to the plant. After dredging, contaminated sediments with PCB levels below 50 ppm will be safely disposed of on-site. Sediments with PCB levels between 50 and 500 ppm, will be shipped off-site for disposal at an approved landfill. The most contaminated dredged material, with PCB levels above 500 ppm, will be sent to an appropriate off-site facility for treatment. This plan differs from the original remedy EPA selected in 1993, which called for the on-site treatment and/or disposal of all the contaminated dredged sediments.

In the first phase of the dredging project, Reynolds installed sheet piling around the area to be dredged to prevent the movement of sediments downstream during dredging. The company will also place sensors around the perimeter of the work area to identify any impacts to water quality and to alert EPA to any problems with the dredging. The use of the sensors will enable corrective measures, including stopping work, to be taken if necessary.

Under a 1989 EPA Superfund Administrative Order, the company initiated a number of investigations into the extent and nature of chemical contamination in the portion of the St. Lawrence River, which borders the RMC facility. The investigation showed that PCBs and other contaminants were present in the St. Lawrence River sediment near the RMC facility at concentrations that pose a threat to human health and wildlife.