In Ambler, Pennsylvania, Federal-Mogul Corp., a global vehicle parts and products manufacturer, has contracted with WSP Group, a global design, engineering and management company, to make repairs to a revetment – a concrete wall designed to support an embankment and divert the pressure of water flowing down the Wissahickon Creek, an extension of the Delaware River.
Unfortunately, the revetment repair will have to wait until after a licensed firm can remove the asbestos washed into the stream, and along its banks, from sites upstream of the Federal-Mogul location.
Federal-Mogul, which acquired its current site from Turner & Newall, occupies the former site of Keasbey and Mattison Co., which manufactured asbestos-containing products beginning in 1897, and continued production until 1934, two years before R.V. Mattison died.
The Wissahickon Creek repair focuses on a 200-foot stretch of embankment on the east bank, south of the Butler Avenue Bridge. The erosion was first observed by officers of Federal-Mogul, including Corporate Communications Director Jim Burke, who noted that the company conducts regular inspections of the site with an eye to preventing further erosion of the creek bed.
Unfortunately, the area slated for repair is also right next to a 25-acre site called the Ambler Asbestos Piles, on Locust Street. The site was placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Superfund National Priorities List in 1986 for its enormous volume (1.5 million cubic yards) of hazardous waste in the form of asbestos.
The EPA remediated the site in 1993, and removed it from the Superfund list in 1996. Since then, WSP notes, asbestos-containing materials, or ACMs, have apparently washed into the area from a source upstream, so that now the area is littered with potential ACMs like pipes and shingles all along the revetment.
Before WSP can begin rebuilding/reinforcing the revetment, an asbestos remediation firm will have to come in and remove the ACMs, then bag the material, label it, and transport it to a designated hazardous waste landfill in the area.
The location of these asbestos piles means that WSP Group workmen will have to gain access from the opposite site of the Wissahickon, on property owned by the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association.
This is primarily because asbestos, in friable or damaged form, is known to release particles that get inside the body (via inhalation or ingestion) and lead to a number of serious diseases, including small cell and non-small cell lung cancers, and mesothelioma.
The latter, which has a deceptively long dormancy period – up to 50 years – eventually becomes a fast-acting cancer of mesothelial tissues (typically around the lungs) that results in diagnosis and a subsequent prognosis of one year to live.
This prognosis is only slightly altered by radical therapies including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, or a combination of the three. These therapies are generally palliative (that is, aimed at improving breathing and reducing pain), and can extend lifetimes by a few months at most.
WSP has already submitted an erosion control plan, presented July 2 and aimed at reducing sediment, to the Montgomery County Conservation District, and the work – scheduled to begin August 9 – has been delayed by Montgomery County failing to respond to the plan. The new start date is targeted at August 16, according to Burke.
Asbestos cleanup and subsequent revetment repair is expected to take about three weeks.
WSP officials have also been working with the EPA, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP.
Repair plans include creating a rock deflection crib, also called a “vane”, upstream from the revetment. This will cause water in the streambed to veer away from its typical course and thus prevent future erosion and sedimentation.
These vanes are essentially the same as a tree falling into the stream crosswise, along the sides, so that its mass and branches direct water to the center of the streambed. The vanes can be constructed of rock or wood, or any other impermeable substance, though modern vanes are usually made of rock.
Sources: Stormwatercenter.net, Thereporteronline.com, AmblerMainStreet.org