Minor chemical contamination found in Aspinwall at old factory site

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 12:05 p.m.

The Department of Environmental Protection will reveal findings of possible chemical contamination in Aspinwall during a public hearing on June 26.

A three-year investigation of soil and water at the lower end of Western Avenue near the former National Torch Tip manufacturer shows the area has been impacted, said DEP spokesman John Poister.

The industrial plant was razed seven years ago and replaced by a strip mall.

The site was remediated but a subsequent investigation was launched based on potential migration of chemicals from the plant, Poister said.

“We've found only two properties that have an elevated level of contamination,” he said.

A vacant home at 37 Western Ave. was demolished; a second home adjacent to it had levels well below state criteria for hazardous exposure and has been equipped with a mitigation system, he said.

Results from groundwater wells show tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) in soil and ground water. The chemicals were used at Torch Tip for degreasing and cleaning the metals.

Both are potential carcinogens.

Long-term exposure to dangerous levels of the chemicals can cause vision problems in men. There also is a danger to pregnant women.

“None of the levels that we saw are at that extreme, but we want to be ahead of it and let people know what we found and how we will proceed,” he said.

Poister said the public hearing will reveal findings and allow residents to give testimony.

Borough Manager Melissa Lang said residents should not be alarmed by the hearing.

“Everyone is aware of the testing,” she said. “This is to learn what they found and how they will proceed.”

National Torch Tip manufacturing plant sat at the lower end of Aspinwall for more than 50 years.

The small shopping plaza that replaced the industrial plant was built in 2007 for about $2.5 million near the ramps to Route 28 and the Highland Park Bridge.

The extent of contamination will not be known until the investigation is complete, but Poister said the hearing is meant to let residents know that there is a possibility of a problem.

“We want them to know what the remediation plans are, if needed,” he said.

Testing has focused on a seven-block radius, from Freeport Road to First Street along Western Avenue, Lang said. Poister was not certain of the number of homes tested.

Aside from soil and water contamination, there is a chance of a chemical vapor buildup from gases released at the plant. If any is found, DEP officials want to remove airborne toxins with vapor intrusion mitigation systems.

“This would be installing a pipe underneath the basement,” he said. “It will be fan-driven and will suck the air out from underneath the cement pad and put it outside the house where it will be diluted.”

The equipment is similar to what is used to get rid of radon gas in homes, he said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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