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DEP to tell findings of possible chemical contamination in Aspinwall

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

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

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

The plant was razed seven years ago and was replaced by a strip mall. The site was remediated, but a subsequent investigation was started 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, or PCE, and trichloroethene, or TCE, in soil and groundwater. The chemicals were used at Torch Tip for degreasing and cleaning metals.

Both are potential carcinogens.

Long-term exposure to dangerous levels of the chemicals can cause vision problems. 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,” Poister said.

DEP officials don't know how to contact the company owners, Poister said. He 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.”

The National Torch Tip manufacturing plant produced welding materials and sat at the lower end of Aspinwall for more than 50 years. The 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.

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. 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,” he said.

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

Anyone who wants to give testimony at the hearing should register in writing with Poister at DEP's Southwest Regional Office, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or by phone at 412-442-4203. The deadline is noon on June 26.

Those unable to attend can submit written comments by Aug. 9 to Edward Litwin, project manager, Department of Environmental Protection, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

The public hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Aspinwall municipal building, 217 Commercial Ave.

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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