DEP Announces May 30 Public Hearing on Ford City, Penn. Equipment Site Cleanup

The Department of Environmental Protection will host a public meeting and hearing on Wednesday, May 30, to discuss and take testimony about the agency’s proposed response to mercury contamination at the former Ford City Equipment Site in Armstrong County, Penn. The cleanup work would be completed through the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA).

On Feb. 23, DEP inspectors found liquid mercury splattered on a concrete pad at the vacant Second Avenue lot, where a glass plant had been demolished that operated at the site before Ford City Equipment used it. The contaminated site, which is adjacent to a popular walking path and the Allegheny River, was unsecured and considered dangerous.

DEP staff made a preliminary assessment of the contamination; secured the site with the help of local police; and issued an order to the property owners to immediately begin safely removing the mercury and disposing of it at an approved waste site.

“Mercury is a dangerous contaminant, and our regional Waste staff responded quickly to the report of a possible spill,” DEP Southwest Regional Director Susan Malone said. “At the scene, they immediately took steps to limit the public’s exposure to mercury and ordered a cleanup.”

When the property owners failed to comply with the order, citing an ownership dispute, DEP began a prompt interim response. They called in a qualified remediation contractor to remove all visible liquid mercury and to dispose of it properly. They then coordinated air monitoring at the scene to ensure that no harmful vapors were being emitted, and they secured the site with a fence.

“Liquid mercury is very difficult to handle. If it’s spilled, even a small amount can break into hundreds of tiny specs,” Malone said. “If tracked indoors, it can get into flooring and carpet, where it gives off mercury vapor and can cause serious health problems.

“We had to act immediately to make sure that no one walked through the site and accidentally tracked mercury into their homes or other buildings.”

For long-term response to the incident, DEP proposes to clean up and remove the mercury for recycling or disposal, and remove for proper disposal soil and other material that the mercury may have impacted. The agency’s ongoing investigation will seek to determine the source of the spill.

During the meeting portion of the evening, HSCA staff will explain the proposed cleanup plan, followed by a question-and-answer session.