Hazardous Waste Cleanup: Exide Trust Reading AKA Former Exide Technologies Facility in Laureldale, Pennsylvania
On this page:
- Cleanup Status
- Site Description
- Contaminants at this Facility
- Institutional/Engineer Controls
- Land Reuse
- Site Responsibility
For many years, Exide Technologies operated a lead smelter and recycled lead batteries at the former Exide Laureldale facility (Facility). Spent lead-acid batteries were sent to a battery breaker unit where lead, plastic, and acid were separated. The recycled lead was smelted and cast into lead-alloy bars to produce new battery plates. Prior to the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the required installation of air pollution controls, Exide lead smelter operations contributed to lead emissions and releases that impacted the soils at the Facility and in the surrounding community. The Facility and the surrounding community where hazardous substances have come to be located are collectively referred to as the “Site”. In 2010, Exide discontinued the battery manufacturing operations and ceased all lead recycling operations in 2013. In May 2020, Exide filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy to liquidate its North American operations.
Prior to Exide’s bankruptcy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action Program was overseeing the investigation and cleanup of the Facility and the impacted soils in the surrounding community. Currently, EPA’s Superfund Removal Program is conducting a removal action at the Facility and will continue the Removal Site Evaluation (RSE) at the facility to determine if there are areas where hazardous substances pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to the community and require remediation under EPA’s Removal authorities.
With respect to impacted soils in the surrounding community, in August 2000, EPA and Exide entered into a Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) requiring Exide to investigate the extent of lead contamination in soil in the surrounding community and to clean up properties that were adversely impacted by the lead emissions. Upon completion of that investigation, EPA approved a cleanup level of 650 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of lead in soil and required that Exide remediate all residential properties with average soil lead levels above 650 mg/kg. Exide completed that soil remediation in 2009. In 2010, Exide investigated and completed the cleanup and restoration of Bernhart Park, a recreational area and reservoir adjacent to the Facility. The adjacent Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent (Sacred Heart Convent), Gethsemane Cemetery, and certain undeveloped parcels, however, require additional evaluation because of proposed land use changes. Exide would have been required to address these properties under the AOC if it had not declared bankruptcy. Details of that work done under the AOC are provided in the Site-Wide Soil Investigation and Cleanups Section.
With respect to the Facility property, EPA required Exide, under a 1988 Corrective Action and Waste Minimization Permit (CA Permit), to address releases from hazardous waste management units at the Facility. Under the CA Permit, EPA required Exide to conduct a RCRA Facility Investigation (RFI) to determine the nature and extent of all releases of hazardous wastes or hazardous constituents at the Facility. Based on that investigation, in May 2020, the RCRA Corrective Action Program proposed a remedy to address the surface and subsurface soils, groundwater, and sediment contamination at the Facility, including areas within the Facility property and certain areas outside the Facility property that had not yet been addressed under the AOC. EPA’s proposed remedy was presented to the public in a Statement of Basis which was subject to the requisite public participation. Because of Exide’s bankruptcy, the proposed remedy was not implemented and EPA has not yet selected a final remedy. Details of the work done under the CA Permit are provided in the Facility Investigation and Proposed Cleanups Section.
When Exide declared bankruptcy in May 2020, any Exide properties that had any value were sold. Those properties that had no value, including the Laureldale Facility, were abandoned, and proceeded through bankruptcy court. As a result of the bankruptcy settlement in October 2020, Exide dissolved, and the court appointed a Trustee and established the Exide Environmental Response Trust (ERT) to address the remaining unsold contaminated properties. Approximately $500,000 of the ERT was allocated to the Laureldale Facility. An additional $2 million was set aside for the Facility from the forfeiture of a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP)/Exide Closure Bond for the closures of the former Hazardous Waste Management Units (HWMUs) at the Facility.
Even with the added funds, the ERT is severely underfunded to complete the remaining cleanup at the Site. EPA estimates that the remaining environmental liabilities, including implementation of the remaining corrective action requirements, demolition and decontamination of the smelter and removal of all hazardous waste offsite, to be in excess of $15 million. Given the deficiency of the ERT to address Exide’s environmental liabilities at the Facility, EPA Superfund Removal is currently conducting a Removal Site Evaluation at the Facility to determine areas of hazardous substances that pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to the community and that will require response action under Removal authorities.
EPA works to help facilities in need of cleanup to locate opportunities for safe and sustainable reuse.
In February 2021, affiliates of the Phoenix Inventors (Phoenix) expressed interest in purchasing the Facility property and redeveloping portions of it into a warehouse distribution center with potentially some light manufacturing, however, no purchase has yet been finalized.
There are several principal stakeholders that are involved in the cleanup and potential redevelopment of the Facility as follows:
The bankruptcy court appointed Exide Environmental Response Corporation as the Trustee of the ERT. The Trustee manages the ERT and is responsible for maintaining the Facility until the ERT funds are depleted. The EPA RCRA Corrective Action Program and several PADEP programs are working with the Trustee to ensure that basic operation and maintenance continue at the Facility to ensure human health and the environment are protected. Additional information about the Trustee can be viewed at: https://pathforwardconsult.com/projects/f/exide-environmental-response-trust
EPA Superfund Removal:
EPA Superfund Removal is conducting a removal action at the Facility property and a Removal Site Evaluation at the facility to determine if hazardous substances pose threats which warrant prompt response actions to protect human health and the environment. Superfund Removal has prioritized five baghouses and associated ductwork containing high concentrations of hazardous substances for removal response actions. Superfund Removal is currently in the startup phase of the removal action, which includes mobilizing personnel and equipment, working on health and safety and field sampling/air monitoring plans, and considering options for decontamination and demolition operations. The work to remove the five baghouses is expected to begin in mid to late June. During the process of removing the initial five high priority baghouses, the Superfund Removal program will continue to evaluate threats and determine whether additional response actions are required to mitigate imminent and substantial endangerment to the community. Additional information and updates on the Superfund Removal activities can be viewed at: https://response.epa.gov/ExidetechnologiesLaueldale
PADEP Land Recycling Program (Act 2 Program):
If the Facility property is purchased, EPA anticipates that the purchaser will proceed with the cleanup of the Facility property under the PADEP Land Recycling Program (“Act 2”). Under the One Cleanup Memorandum between PADEP and EPA, certain RCRA Corrective Action facilities remediated under the oversight of the PADEP Act 2 Program also satisfy requirements for RCRA Corrective Action, provided that the cleanup meets RCRA Corrective Action standards. Additional information about the PADEP Act 2 Program can be viewed at: https://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Land/LandRecycling/Pages/default.aspx
If the Facility is purchased, this webpage will be updated to include a weblink to the designated PADEP Act 2 website and any developer’s information on the cleanup and redevelopment activities at the Facility.
EPA Corrective Action:
The RCRA Corrective Action Program will continue to work with the PADEP Act 2 Program to ensure that the cleanup of the Facility property meets the RCRA Corrective Action proposed remedy and standards.
Facility Investigation and Proposed Cleanups:
Under the EPA Corrective Action Program, Exide completed a RCRA Facility Investigation (“RFI”) in 2018 to evaluate the nature and extent of potential releases of hazardous wastes or hazardous constituents from regulated units, solid waste management units, and other source areas at the Facility. The media of concern are surface and subsurface soils, groundwater, and sediment. n>Based on the findings of the RFI, EPA issued a proposed remedy in 2020 subject to the required public participation requirements, to address the onsite surface and subsurface soils, groundwater, and sediment contamination. The proposed remedy consisted of a combination of soil excavation and capping for onsite lead-contaminated areas, sediment remediation, groundwater monitoring, and implementation of land and groundwater use restrictions. Because of the bankruptcy, EPA has not yet selected a final remedy for the Facility. If the Facility property is purchased, the cleanup will occur under the oversight of the PADEP Act 2 Program, in consultation with EPA, to ensure human health and the environment are protected. Below is a summary of the investigation and the proposed remedy for each onsite medium of contamination:
Subsurface soil contamination:
Contamination consists of heavy metals—predominantly lead (Pb) with concentrations of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd) and chromium (Cr). EPA anticipates that existing structures (e.g., building concrete slabs, asphalt pavement) will function as a protective cap that prevents direct exposure to the contaminated subsurface soils beneath these areas. Because contaminants would, therefore, remain in the subsurface soils, institutional controls (ICs) would be implemented through an environmental covenant to restrict the land use to nonresidential and to restrict activities that may compromise the integrity of the existing asphalt pavement and structures functioning as a protective cap.
Surface soil contamination:
Surface soil contamination consists of open surface soil areas throughout the Facility that are accessible to exposed surface soil with lead concentrations above the PADEP Direct Contact Nonresidential Medium Specific Concentrations (MSCs) of 1,000 (mg/kg). These areas include the vegetative cover of the Convent Landfill, the Reading Landfill side slopes, and isolated lawn/landscape areas. Remediation of these areas may consist of fencing off the areas, capping or soil excavation, and offsite disposal to eliminate direct exposures to the contaminated surface soil.
Lead is the primary contaminant in groundwater. The groundwater contaminant plume is localized to the interior of the Facility. Historical data shows lead levels are slowly decreasing, and the size of the contaminant plume is slowly shrinking within the Facility property boundaries. There are no current direct exposures to the groundwater contamination because the Facility and the surrounding community are connected to public water. EPA’s proposed remedy for groundwater pursuant to the RCRA Corrective Action Program consists of (1) monitored natural attenuation and (2) institutional controls to prohibit groundwater use at the Facility.
Drainage ditches, Bernhart Creek, Unnamed tributary contamination:
Lead is the primary contaminant in surface soil/sediment. The lead levels are above the PADEP Direct Contact Nonresidential MSCs of 1,000 mg/kg. Soil/sediment remediation is required to eliminate direct exposure and to prevent potential off-Facility releases via contaminant transport into Bernhart Creek. Remediation may consist of excavation of the soil/sediment contamination, backfilling the areas with clean fill and/or riprap.
Closure of the former Hazardous Waste Management Units:
Prior to the bankruptcy, Exide completed partial closures of the HWMUs under the PADEP Hazardous Waste Management Program. Closure activities completed thus far included decontamination of the HWMUs with high pressure power washing with water at 10,000 psi. Concrete slab restoration, which has not been completed, may be required in some of the HWMUs. Closure of the HWMUs must meet the requirements under the PADEP Hazardous Waste Management Program.
Site-Wide Soil Investigation and Cleanups:
In August 2000, EPA issued an AOC to Exide to investigate the extent of lead contamination in soil in the surrounding community and to clean up those properties that were adversely impacted by the lead emissions. In 2001 and 2002, Exide sampled approximately 600 properties in Laureldale Borough and Muhlenberg Townships.
Site-Specific Risk Assessment
In the summer of 2002, Exide initiated a Site-specific risk assessment to determine a soil lead level that is protective for the community. The risk assessment evaluated lead exposure risks from various sources such as tap water, air, lead paint, soil, dust, and food. The risk assessment consisted of an environmental sampling of residences and a community blood lead study. The risk assessment targeted residences with children seven years old and younger because that age is considered most susceptible to lead exposures. In 2007, EPA approved the Site-specific risk assessment and determined a protective soil lead level of 650 mg/kg for residential properties. The applied cleanup level of 650 mg/kg ensures long term protection of the residents and the environment in Laureldale Borough and Muhlenberg Township.
Residential Soil Cleanups
Residential properties with soil lead levels of 650 mg/kg and less do not pose an unacceptable health risk and did not require soil cleanup. In 2008 and 2009, residential properties that contained soil lead levels greater than 650 mg/kg were cleaned up. The cleanups consisted of soil excavation, backfilling with clean soil, and restoring the property to its original condition. Exide and its contactors worked with the property owners to ensure that the cleanups met the owners’ satisfaction. The residential cleanups were completed in the Fall of 2009, and Exide cleaned up a total of 225 properties.
In addition to the individual residential properties, Exide completed the soil cleanup of the Sacred Heart Convent property in 2018 and the Rosedale Grove Campground in 2019.
Bernhart Park Cleanup
Bernhart Park is a 37.6-acre community park located within a quarter mile of the Facility. Historic operations at the Facility contributed to lead concentrations in soil, surface water, and sediment at the Park. Exide worked extensively with the EPA, PADEP, and the City of Reading to evaluate the potential lead exposure risks to Park visitors and to develop a cleanup workplan to address those risks. The Park was cleaned up and reopened in 2010.
Remaining Off-Facility Investigation
Undeveloped areas of the Sacred Heart Convent, Gethsemane Cemetery and approximately 10 undeveloped parcels (zoned residential) require additional evaluation. An updated human health risk assessment is required for the Gethsemane Cemetery to evaluate employees’ and visitors’ potential exposures to lead in soil. Presently, undeveloped parcels are vacant and do not pose a potentially unacceptable risk. However, a change in the future use of an undeveloped parcel will require re-evaluation of the exposure risks for the intended use.
Interactive Map of Exide Technologies in Reading, Pennsylvania
View larger map
The Facility is located partially in Laureldale Borough and Muhlenberg Township, just northeast of Reading, Pennsylvania and occupies approximately 45 acres. The Facility began operation in the mid-1930s under the ownership of the Bower's Battery Company. In 1960, the name was changed to the General Battery and Ceramic Corporation and was changed again in 1969 to General Battery Corporation. In 1987, General Battery Corporation was acquired as a wholly owned subsidiary of Exide Corporation. In May 2020, Exide filed for bankruptcy and is now dissolved. Exide shut down the Facility in September 2020. As a result of the bankruptcy settlement, the court appointed a Trustee and established the ERT to maintain the Facility property and ensure that human health and the environment are protected.
The major contaminants and risks associated with Exide's past operations are elevated levels of lead and specific heavy metals in soils, sediment, and groundwater.
The primary tool used by EPA to estimate risk in the community from soil contaminated with lead is called the Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic (IEUBK) model. The IEUBK model can be used to estimate blood lead concentrations for children within a study area that are exposed to lead from multiple sources
Institutional Controls will be implemented at the Facility property to restrict land use to nonresidential and prohibit onsite groundwater use. Engineering Controls such as capping and/or fencing will be implemented at the Facility property to prevent direct exposures to areas that contain surface and subsurface soil contamination.
The Facility property is currently unused. If the Facility property were to be purchased, EPA anticipates that the cleanup and redevelopment of the Facility will proceed under the oversight of the PADEP Land Recycling Program pursuant to the One Cleanup Memorandum. The Facility would be suitable for non-residential uses such as warehouse distribution and light manufacturing.
RCRA Corrective Action activities at this facility have been conducted under the direction of EPA Region 3 with assistance from the PADEP and the Exide Environmental Response Trust (ERT).