Photos and Points of View - (please send yours)
View of Lower South Hill from West Hill, March 2006. The horizontal string of buildings is the Emerson facility.
A portion of the "study area", looking up South Cayuga Street.
September 13, 2007: Editorial: "South Hill: ICSD should require more TCE testing"
May 24, 2006: Editorial: "TCE pollution: Small steps in right direction"
spill: It's time to get serious"
Chlorinated hydrocarbons should be replaced
Here is a little different perspective on chlorinated hydrocarbons which are the subject of Emerson's zig zag remediation efforts.
The chemicals of interest TCE (trichloroethene), PERC (tetrachloroethene or perchloroethene), and 1,1,1-TCA (1,1,1-trichloroethane) are all tested for in municipal drinking water under Environmental Protection Agency rules. The Maximum Contaminant Level "goal" for TCE and PERC is zero, but 200 parts per billion for 1,1,1-TCA.
The actual Maximum Contaminant Level for TCE and PERC is 5 parts per billion.
PERC also is the very unfortunate name for what EPA calls tetrachloroethylene, as I found one young man screaming in my ear that PERC is a component of rocket fuel. It is not. Perchlorate (usually as the ammonium salt) is the active ingredient in solid rocket fuel and explosives. It has been found in drinking water and EPA has capped it at 24.5 parts per billion. Tetrachloroethylene, unfortunately, is the solvent of choice in the dry cleaning business. It or one of its close cousins was used for a number of years during the 1930s as a solvent in the then new industry of solvent extraction of edible soybean oil.
If it was possible to find, let's just say, a less polar solvent for the vegetable oil extracting industry, a "greener" technology can surely be found for the dry cleaning of clothes: perhaps carbon dioxide which is liquid at - 56.6 degrees Celsius. Liquid carbon dioxide is an effective solvent for grease and oil.
Clean up TCE with CU's pioneering bacteria
On the night of June 22, I attended the public meeting on the Emerson Power Transmission Site environmental investigation.
I urge Emerson's
Mr. Chase and DEC's Ms. Peachy to give serious consideration to cleaning
up the contaminated ground water on and off Emerson's "hazardous
waste site" by employing "homegrown" bioremediation. "This
born-to-dechlorinate bug" was found by Cornell's James M. Gossett
in sludge from the old Ithaca Sewage treatment plant adjacent to Ithaca's
Sciencenter, and characterized by Cornell's Stephen Zinder. The bug, an
anaerobic bacteria named, Dehalococcoides ethenogenes Strain 195, detoxifies
Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Tetrachloroethylene, both of which are Emerson
site related chlorinated hydrocarbons. This unusual bacteria obtains its
metabolic energy by breaking carbon-chlorine covalent bonds, in the process
releasing harmless ethylene gas, a natural fruit ripening chemical, and
harmless salts such as sodium chloride.
Having lived in Ithaca since 1967, and having worked for Morse Chain Corporation (1976-1980) and for Borg Warner Automotive (1996-2000), I am very much aware of the roles these firms play in our lives as employers of hardworking people, as benefactors of local organizations, and as corporate neighbors. The pride their employees take in a long history of innovation and diligence is clear and well-justified.
However, not all of these firms' legacies are beneficial. As environmental awareness and understanding have increased over the century of the Morse site's existence, we have learned that many of the commonly-accepted practices from fifty years ago are no longer acceptable. Some of the problems they tried to solve (for example, PCBs and other contaminants in oil leaking off of scrap and product) were "solved" in ways that have created more problems. This is certainly the case with TCE, which was seen as an effective degreasing solvent fifty years ago and was heavily used at the Morse site and many (perhaps most) other industrial and military facilities across our country.
Unfortunately, TCE is now known to be carcinogenic, and has been shown to be present in our South Hill Neighborhood, even though usage was phased out 20-30 years ago. The toxin is present in high enough levels in our homes (and in some of the Emerson buildings as well) to require mitigation under the current NYS air test threshold of 5.0 ug/cm^3 or under the voluntarily-lowered EPT threshold of 0.8 ug/cm^3.
Given the huge quantities of TCE that were used, the large quantities still being found in test wells, and many different methods by which TCE can move through soil, groundwater, and fissures in the bedrock, little consolation can be gained from any test results. Most of the air tests are for just 24 hours. Most indoor air tests have been performed during the heating season, so variations due to high levels of seasonal groundwater are not known. It's clear that the TCE continues to move around in different areas in different ways.
Currently, homes that have two "clean" tests for TCE in the indoor air (i.e., show less than 0.8 ug/cm^3 in indoor air) are dismissed from consideration for further testing or for mitigation as "No Further Action" (NFA) homes, even if there are relatively high levels of TCE beneath the home (found in "sub-slab" tests) or levels qualifying for mitigation in adjoining homes. This seems blindly optimistic at best, blatantly deceitful at worst.
Two years ago, house sales in our neighborhood received many offers quickly, often above the asking price. Now, home owners are finding their homes very difficult to sell, even at reduced prices. Prospective buyers see attractive homes in a well-maintained neighborhood, but worry (understandably) about the real value of homes living under (over and in) the clouds of toxins and the many suspicions about them.
While Emerson's voluntary lowering of the TCE test threshold is welcome, and their offer to pay for the electricity used by the mitigation systems seems only fair, other issues remain unaddressed. There has been no offer of the "blanket mitigation" that would provide systems to all affected homeowners, regardless of the results of a few indoor air samples. There has been no offer of financial compensation for the homeowners who can't sell or must sell at reduced prices. There has been no offer of financial compensation against losses which will be incurred by homeowners who will try to sell in the future. There has been no compensation offered (either by Emerson or the County's Assessment Department) for the reduction in useful area in our homes after we are advised to stay out of our basements because of the toxin levels.
There is still a lot to be done to "make things right" on South Hill.
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