$4M READY FOR MERCURY REMOVAL

EPA secures funding for work in Colonie from former customers

BRIAN NEARING STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: D4

Date: Thursday, January 7, 2010

COLONIE -- Former customers of a mercury refining company have put up about $4 million so far to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency toward a plan to clean up decades of toxic mercury left behind at the Railroad Avenue site.


The cash is intended to help pay for a cleanup plan at the former Mercury Refining Co. plant being designed by seven former industrial customers of the plant, EPA Regional Attorney Sharon Kivowitz said.


The plant, which handled more than 7 million pounds of mercury-tainted materials like batteries, thermometers and pressure regulators from the 1950s until 1998, has been on the federal Superfund pollution cleanup list since 1983.


In late 2008, EPA announced an $11 million plan that called for removing mercury from the site and a nearby creek, as well as from the sites of several nearby businesses, and for using chemical injections to stabilize buried mercury that cannot be easily dug up.


Kivowitz said the design of the cleanup plan is being done by former customers of the plant, including Union Carbide Corp., Verizon New York, National Grid, Spectrum Brands, Eveready Battery Co., The Gillette Co., and Brambles Environmental.


In September, those companies, which accounted for about three-quarters of the mercury-tainted materials that could be traced to the site, agreed to perform the design and set aside $200,000 to reimburse the EPA for overseeing the work, Kivowitz said.


Also at that time, another 291 former customers that had sent the remaining quarter of mercury-tainted materials agreed to pay $3.8 million to support the design and cleanup, she added.


Kivowitz said some work will be done at the site this summer as part of the design, which could be done by the end of the year. But she added it was still too early to say when the actual cleanup might start. Before that can happen, however, EPA must reach another agreement with the seven major customers on how the remaining cost of the cleanup will be covered, she said.


Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause developmental disabilities in children and developing fetuses, and also can concentrate in fish, birds and invertebrates. The nearest homes to the site are about a quarter-mile away.


EPA-ordered tests at the Colonie site found buried mercury concentrations of up to 38 parts per billion and concentrations in sediments in catch basins near the creek of up to 263 parts per billion.


EPA has a mercury limit of 2 parts per billion for drinking water. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a mercury limit of 1 part per million in seafood.


The company still operates under the name Mercury Refining, but now recovers tiny amounts of silver from silver-oxide watch batteries.


The cleanup is expected to include excavation of mercury-tainted creek sediment from the unnamed tributary to the Patroon Creek. The material will be dried and disposed of at an undisclosed off-site landfill, according to EPA. The cleanup also will include surrounding properties occupied by Diamond W. Products Co., Allied Building Products Co. and Albany Pallet and Box Co.


For five years after the cleanup, tests will continue on fish, surface water and sediments in the Patroon Creek, the unnamed tributary and a pond near Interstate 90, formed by a city of Albany-owned dam.


Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or at bnearing@timesunion.com.