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Great Lakes Article:

EPA starts Shores cleanup
PCBs are being removed from drain, two canals

By Edward L. Cardenas / The Detroit News
08/15/2002


   ST. CLAIR SHORES -- Contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency are starting the delicate, yet challenging, three-month effort to remove PCB-contaminated sediment from two boating canals and drains in this lakeside city.
   Large vacuum trucks are sucking sediment and water from sewers along Bon Brae near Harper where the largest concentration of chemicals has been found. It also is the area where federal and local investigators believe the PCBs were illegally dumped.
   Along the residential boating canals near Jefferson, even more heavy machinery can be found as work crews drain off water from a small portion of the canals in preparation for dredging operations.
   Throughout the dredging project, the EPA will be taking steps to ensure the safety of residents and workers.
   "We are doing daily air monitoring around the excavation site," said Jim Augustyn, EPA on-scene coordinator. "We do not expect much of a dust to be created (from the dredging)."
   Augustyn said tests have been taken outside some homes in the area to see if the PCBs were in any lawns.
   "Soil samples were taken at 16 different properties and PCBs were not detected in every property except one ... and it was below one part per million," Augustyn said.
   That low level of PCBs is considered safe, he added.
   The estimated $4 million cleanup will remove PCBs found in the two canals near Jefferson and 10 Mile and from a storm drain near Harper and Bon Brae. Crews contracted by the EPA are planning to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
   
Sludge in drains
   Last week, more than 1 million gallons of water were removed each day from the sewers to get to sludge in the drains.
   After the sludge is removed, sediment and storm water will be washed out. This will be done to remove any PCBs from inside the storm sewer and catch basins. The sediment and storm water will be collected for treatment and disposal in a special landfill that handles toxic waste, officials said.
   Since the public was made aware earlier this year of the PCBs in the canals and drains, St. Clair Shores officials and residents have been waiting for the cleanup to begin. A number of public hearings have been held to keep residents informed.
   Steve Gold, deputy health officer with the Macomb County Health Department, said cooperation between local, state and federal officials in the clean up of PCBs in St. Clair Shores has been as good as he's ever seen.
   "These cleanups frequently take years. This one has been done in months," said Gold, who added that all of the agencies involved have worked hard to keep residents informed about the removal of the chemicals.
   "When people don't know what is going on they get worried and suspicious," he said.
   But Dave Hargrave, spokesman for Toxic Free Shores, a grassroots environmental group, said he and a number of residents are unhappy with efforts to keep the community updated.
   "We live there, play there and work there, and have been cut out of the process," said Hargrave, who also is concerned about the extent of the chemical pollution and if it's exclusive to the Lange and Revere area.
   "We are not sure what to clean up because we don't know where the contamination begins and ends," he said.
   
PCBs banned in 1977
   PCBs also are known as polychlorinated biphenyls. The chemicals have been linked to cancer of the liver, skin, intestinal system and reproductive organs. They are chlorine-based and were used as coolants for electrical transformers, hydraulic fluids, capacitors and similar commercial uses. The government banned them in 1977.
   Health officials say the danger is considered minimal to residents.
   Routine tests last summer in the canals on Lange and Revere streets showed PCBs in the sediment. Those tests were required before the shallow canals could be dredged to make it easier for boats to pass through. The test results were made public in February.
   PCB levels in the canals were 100 times above the safe level. Later tests in the Lange canal found PCB levels 1,000 times the safe level. Readings reached more than 100,000 times above the safe levels in the storm drain under Bon Brae in the 10 1/2 Mile and Harper area.
   In March and April, the EPA collected more than 320 samples from the 10 Mile Drain storm sewers, catch basins and sanitary sewers along Bon Brae, the canal and the air in the area.
   A small test area in the waterway that connects the Lange and Revere canals, parallel to Jefferson, has been drained to expose the bottoms of both canals. A drying agent was placed on the mud to make it firmer and easier to remove. Crews will remove about two feet of sediment on the canal floor that is believed to contain PCBs.
   Augustyn said the remainder of the dredging will be done in 50-foot by 50-foot segments. About 250 feet of the Revere canal and 1,000 feet of the Lange canal will be dredged.
   The EPA then will test the sediment. If the sediment has the accepted level of one parts per million of PCBs, it will be kept at the site. Sediments with higher concentrations will be excavated and eventually disposed off site.
   "The (EPA and city) seem to be doing a good job and taking precautions to keep everyone safe," said Charles Elderson, who lives along the Lange Street canal.
   Elderson, 64, said he keeps updated on the progress of the dredging work by attending forums held in the city.
   "We all want this job done yesterday, but it is a serious project," he said.
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