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Prominent toxic site in Waterford to be cleaned up

Prominent toxic site in Waterford to be cleaned up

Extensive contamination exists at former industrial property and nearby Feeder Canal
Prominent toxic site in Waterford to be cleaned up
Photographer: Shutterstock

WATERFORD — The toxic legacy of a long-shuttered industrial operation along Route 32 will be cleaned up this year, town and company officials announced Thursday.

More than 17,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and sediment will be removed starting in early spring and continuing through November. Contractors will dig up the old Friedrichsohn Cooperage at 153-155 Saratoga Ave. and will temporarily dam and drain several hundred feet of the Old Champlain Canal, which runs behind it, to scoop out muck.

Equipment will be positioned on site starting in the first week of March. A public information session will be held at Waterford Town Hall from 3 to 6 p.m. March 18, followed by a question and answer session at 7 p.m.

Town Supervisor Jack Lawler on Thursday said the work is long overdue and is good news for the community.

“It’s on one of the most heavily traveled roads in the Capital District,” he said. “We’re very happy to see it move forward.”

What becomes of the site after the cleanup has yet to be determined, and will depend on how successful the cleanup is. State officials will give it a certification grade that will specify allowed uses and any non-allowed uses.

The site currently is an eyesore surrounded by a high fence, with concrete pads where buildings once stood. The plot has more than 300 feet of road frontage but is very shallow, as it’s squeezed between Route 32 and the old canal. It totals less than half an acre, which limits its potential uses, regardless of how effective the cleanup is.

Across the old canal, which is still in use as a water feeder for the modern Erie Canal, there is a walking trail and a park.

The price tag of the cleanup has yet to be determined, but will be borne by the SI Group and General Electric, which along with multiple other industrial firms had supplied used barrels and drums to Friedrichsohn to be refurbished and resold. Residual chemicals in those barrels — a barrel is considered “empty” even with up to 1 inch of contents remaining inside — spilled or were dumped onto the site.

Contaminants on site include arsenic, PCBs, lead, mercury, DDT, chromium and an assortment of hydrocarbons.

While SI Group and GE are not alleged to have done anything wrong or caused the contamination to happen, Lawler said, the fact that it was their barrels and residue makes them responsible for the cleanup.

The project should represent the end of a very long saga. 

Friedrichsohn Cooperage was founded in 1817 to fabricate and refurbish wooden kegs and barrels. Later on, it converted to refurbishing and cleaning metal barrels such as the 55-gallon drums ubiquitous at industrial sites the world over.

Friedrichsohn ceased operation in 1991 and the situation came to a head soon after, as there were thousands of barrels left behind in crumbling buildings.

At the request of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which feared a roof collapse and subsequent spread of toxic material, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted an emergency cleanup from 1994 to 1996. The EPA removed 322 tons of contaminated sludge and soil, 9,000 gallons of liquid waste and 3,767 drums. EPA demolished the five buildings on site, brought in clean soil to replace what had been removed and declared the surface contamination resolved.

For years afterward, officials considered what to do with the site and the ground contamination there. Friedrichsohn owner Mary Sausville died at age 84 in January 1998; her obituary listed no children.

“The county has not been able to identify any heirs so it’s somewhat of an unclaimed property,” Lawler said. The county doesn't want to foreclose on the property for unpaid taxes because it's a toxic site.

SI Group (then known as Schenectady International), GE and four other industrial companies were billed for the federal cleanup after EPA officials determined Sausville was unable to pay. Schenectady International accepted responsibility but protested its share of the cost. It eventually lost in court and was assessed $2 million; the other five settled out of court.

Now SI Group and GE are involved in the state cleanup.

“We have assembled a collaborative and knowledgeable team with the common goal of improving the safety and appearance of the Waterford community,” SI Group Senior Vice President Tom Masterson said in a news release Thursday. “We look forward to partnering with the town of Waterford leaders in their cooperation and support of this project.”

An estimated 17,550 cubic yards of contaminated material will be removed by truck to an authorized disposal facility. Lawler said that will amount to about 10 truck loads per day.

Work will halt on weekends, and truck traffic onto or off the site will be suspended during morning and afternoon rush hours, when Route 32 becomes clogged with commuters heading to and from Interstate 787.

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