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Gloversville school board agrees to cap district property with topsoil

Gloversville school board agrees to cap district property with topsoil

Half foot will cover leather tannery waste contaminated soil on the field at Kingsborough Elementary
Gloversville school board agrees to cap district property with topsoil
Gloversville Superintendent of Schools David Halloran in May 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

GLOVERSVILLE — A consensus of the Gloversville Enlarged School District School Board agreed Thursday night to use the district's reserves to pay for a half foot of topsoil cover to "cap" leather tannery waste contaminated soil on the field at Kingsborough Elementary School.

The GESD listened to a presentation from Ambient Environmental Inc. of Albany Thursday night, which spelled out the potential environmental hazards from 19 test pits dug four to 9.1 feet into the soil behind the school. The district hired Ambient in June after the field had become rutted with standing water and had begun to emit a sulfur odor. Tannery waste was found in 10 of the test pits.

Ambient Senior Consultant James Blasting said the smell was from volatile organic compounds from decaying leather tannery pollution in the soil. 

"There are strips of leather. There's different colors. There's red, white and blue. There's a white clay material, which is a caustic material, which is used for processing. The odor that is given off — when you expose this stuff — that's hydrogen sulfide. That's the rotten egg smell," he said. 

Blasting told the board the air quality around the field is safe, putting the pollution at well below the level allowed by New York state standards, federal standards or even the most stringent standards used in California. 

One exception was trichlorofluoromethane (Freon-11), which was found at levels above those normally found in indoor air, however, Ambient determined the health effects from exposures at these concentrations are "not likely." 

Blasting told the board the material could pose health risks if children physically touched it or ingested it. Blasting told the board he wouldn't allow his children to play on the field, unless the district put a cap over it. 

Ambient provided two response options for GESD: 

  • Cover Placement — costing $150,000 to $200,000, for a half foot of compact fill material, including clean sand and geotextile fabric to be placed over the contaminated soil to stop the "contact and inhalation exposure pathways." 
  • Removal and Off-site Disposal of Waste Material, Backfill — costing $2.5 million to $4 million, which would require excavation, transportation and disposal of waste, with a backfill of engineered clean fill material to allow for future use as parking lot, bus access, playground or ball fields. 

Gloversville Superintendent David Halloran said the GESD needs to begin discussing a capital project for its facilities, specifically to replace its roofs, address its traffic pattern at the high school and to build "secure vestibules." Halloran indicated he does not favor doing a complete removal of the tannery waste by means of a capital project.

"I don't want to go to the taxpayers. So any capital project we do, I want to make sure it results in zero impact on the taxpayers," Halloran said.

The GESD has known of the concerns about topsoil since a 1991 environmental conducted by EDER Associates Consulting Engineers of Locust Valley, New York.  EDER determined tannery waste was deposited on the site prior to construction of the school building in 1972. 

Blasting said EDER's report and Ambient Environmental's analysis should speed up the process to get funding to cleanup the site.

While the district has data showing what the contamination came from, it won't help because it isn't significantly damaging the air quality.  

Halloran said he was looking for the board's permission to use reserve money for a cap of the soil, while the district pursues other sources of funding for a permanent clean-up. 

Mayor Vince DeSantis spoke briefly at the meeting, saying the city's recent award of a $300,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant, one of 149 such awards made nationwide, could help speed up the process of being awarded money for a clean-up of the site, and other contaminated sites around the city. 

"I know there are hoops to jump through, and this is not something that happens right away, but ultimately our goal is complete remediation of the site," DeSantis said. 

Members of the board asked for public impact. One woman who said she was the grandmother of a student at the district said would be willing to "make some noise" to support getting state and federal funding. Halloran said the district could use her help. 

The school board did not officially vote on allocating funds for the cap, one member offered to sponsor a resolution, but Halloran simply asked if any board member was against spending district reserves on a topsoil cap. No member stated opposition. 

"I think we've got it. We're going to proceed," Halloran said. 

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