EPA to tackle radium at NJ Superfund site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed an interim plan to address groundwater contaminated with radium at the Welsbach/General Gas Mantle Superfund site located in Camden and Gloucester City, New Jersey. EPA is taking public comment on its plan and will host a virtual public meeting on September 8.

Welsbach Company of Gloucester City and General Gas Mantle Company of Camden City manufactured incandescent gas mantles for home and street lighting between the 1890s and 1941.

Both plants extracted thorium from ore for use as a coating material on the mesh covers of the gas lamps. but the radioactive waste materials, or tailings, that remained after the extraction process were disposed of as fill near and/or under residential and commercial properties as well as on open lands.

“This proposed plan continues EPA’s work to protect residents of Gloucester City and Camden from contamination associated with this site. Having already taken many actions to address the source of contamination, in this case we are focusing on contaminated groundwater,” said Acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan“This is an interim plan that we propose to implement as we continue to assess the groundwater to see if we need to do more to address it in the long term. We feel this interim plan is the best approach and we look forward to continue to work closely with the impacted communities.”

EPA is proposing an interim cleanup plan, called a remedy, which will allow natural processes to break down radioactive elements in the groundwater into less harmful substances, coupled with putting into place institutional controls, such as restrictions on the use of the impacted groundwater, and conducting long-term monitoring of the groundwater to ensure that the breakdown of radioactive elements is happening as anticipated.

EPA reached its decision based on information including results of the sampling of the groundwater between 2018 and 2020.

This Welsbach/General Gas Mantle Superfund site is divided into four phases of work called operable units, which are discrete pieces of the wider cleanup effort. This proposed plan addresses the fourth operable unit (OU4), which is groundwater.

Under a cleanup plan for operable unit 1 (OU1) EPA is currently addressing radiologically impacted soil in the study area in Gloucester City, New Jersey.

The interim remedy proposed today would be implemented during the OU1 cleanup of the radiologically contaminated soil.

Once that soil, which is a source of groundwater contamination, is fully addressed the interim groundwater remedy will be reevaluated and EPA will establish a permanent groundwater cleanup plan.

EPA completed the cleanup work for OU2 in 2017, which included decontaminating building surfaces at the Armstrong Building (the last remaining building from Welsbach’s gas mantle operations) and disposing of the radiologically contaminated soil/waste to an approved off-site location.

After careful study, EPA said it determined that no cleanup action was needed for OU3, which includes wetlands, surface water, and sediment as they posed no radiological threat to people or the environment.

EPA will continue to monitor the groundwater and will conduct a review of the site conditions at least every five years to ensure the effectiveness of the interim remedy. Work under today’s proposed plan is estimated to cost $460,000.

The EPA will hold a virtual public meeting to discuss its proposed interim plan on September 8, 2021, at 6:00 pm. To register for the session, visit https://welsbach-ggm.eventbrite.com.

Written comments on the proposed plan, postmarked no later than close of business September 24, 2021, can be mailed or emailed to Thomas Dobinson, Remedial Project Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 290 Broadway – 19th Floor, New York, NY 10007, Email: dobinson.thomas@epa.gov

For site background and to view the proposed interim plan, visit: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/welsbach-ggm

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