In and around Ambler, Pennsylvania, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials are preparing to extend Phase II of the BoRit asbestos remediation project, which began in September of 2009.
The BoRit Asbestos site was (and is) employed to dispose of asbestos-containing material from manufacturing from the 1930s until the 1980s, first under the auspices of Keasby & Mattison Company, and then – after 1962 – under the direction of Nicolet Industries, which bought Keasby and ceased operations in the 1970s. Asbestos dumping by other entities continued until the 1980s.
The site is divided into three adjacent parcels: an asbestos waste pile owned by property acquisition firm Kane-Core, Inc. (Ambler); a reservoir owned by the Audubon-recognized Wissahickon Waterfowl Preserve (Upper Dublin); and a former recreation area owned by the Whitpain Township in Montgomery County (Whitpain).
All three areas, comprising a total of 38 acres, were placed on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) in April of 2009. Listing allows the EPA to begin offering long-term solutions. Prior to listing, some of the areas named were operated under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), which managed the site
under Clean Air regulations and required waste capping and vegetation, fencing and signage to at least parts of the dumping grounds.
However, as one observer notes, it’s difficult to understand why – given PADEP violation notices beginning in 1984 – the entire portion didn’t receive listing under NPL provisions.
Asbestos, a fibrous amphibole (or silicate-type mineral), was mined and widely used during most of the 20th century in insulative products, floor and ceiling tiles, brake pads and even oven mitts.
Long exposure to asbestos can lead to asbestosis, a respiratory disease similar to asthma or chronic bronchitis. However, even a single exposure can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma, a particularly lethal cancer of the mesothelial linings.
Mesothelioma is devastating because of its long dormancy period, which ranges from two to five decades, largely without symptoms, during which tumors spread to invade vital tissues and organs.
By the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, usually as a result of screening for other symptoms, the cancer has spread so widely that little more than palliative treatments are employed, and most victims succumb to the cancer with a year.
Even aggressive therapies like surgery combined with radiation and chemotherapy rarely increase life spans by more than a few months, though earlier detection of the cancer – as provided by a new diagnostic method that involves sampling pleural fluid – promises better cures and longer survival rates.
In Ambler, where asbestos contamination has been an ongoing problem for eighty years, Phase II remediation – expected to be completed later this month – offers residents the best hope of avoiding mesothelioma.
Phase II involves placing cable-concrete mats along the banks and stream bed of Rose Valley Creek between Whitpain Park and the reservoir to limit the spread of asbestos until the project is completed. This is after a measure to widen the creek and construct a 100-foot retaining wall near the Rose Valley headwall to prevent the additional water flow from collapsing the reservoir’s banks.
Cleanup is expected to continue apace, barring bad weather. By Nov. 20 of 2009, the EPA had removed about 1,250 tons of asbestos-containing debris from the area to a designated landfill, according to the BoRit Web site. In addition, about 17,000 cubic yards of clean fill have been used to cap waste where applicable.
Once the EPA is done removing asbestos, it will begin a 3-year process that evaluates the properties of the sites and develops the best remedial approach.
Sources: EPA website, The Reporter newspaper website, Center for Public Environmental Oversight