Toxics Cleanup Efforts: A Review of Past and Present Activities


Click on the image for a larger view. Map showing study area of the Anacostia River Sediment Project. Specific locations (in orange) are also identified for past and ongoing efforts. Provided by Tetra Tech in draft Remedial Investigation Work Plan.

There has been a lot of recent activity on the issue of toxics in the Anacostia River so this is an excellent time to provide updates along with some background information on each of the projects.

Updates:

  • Pepco Benning Road – With the second status report due to the court by May 24, we also anticipate field sampling to be complete by July or August, the remedial investigation report available for public comment this fall, and the feasibility study report available for public comment in early 2015. Be ready for those comment periods! Based on these projections and without further delay, the actual cleanup process could begin around summer 2015.
    Jump to Pepco Benning Road background.

  • CSX Benning Road Rail Yard – Cleanup of contaminated soil and groundwater should begin this summer. The results of the investigation for the waterside of Fort Dupont Creek and the Anacostia River is currently being reviewed by DDOE and CSX.
    Jump to CSX Benning Road Rail Yard background.

  • Washington Gas – Cleanup of surface and subsurface soils could begin as early as next month, though it was originally scheduled for earlier this year. Plans for investigating groundwater, surface water, and sediments will likely be released this fall.
    Jump to Washington Gas background.

  • Washington Navy Yard - The groundwater investigation is still active with a report on results currently being reviewed by EPA and DDOE. There were data gaps found in the sediment investigation regarding the extent of the contamination and the Navy is currently preparing a feasibility study sampling plan to address those gaps. The draft remedial investigation report for the sediments in the river is under review by DDOE, EPA, and the Navy.
    Jump to Washington Navy Yard background.

  • Poplar Point - The study for this site was scheduled to start in 2012, but it has been delayed and the investigation will probably not get underway until this summer.
    Jump to Poplar Point background.

Background information on these activities:

Anacostia River Sediment Project
Last spring DDOE announced its decision to investigate the contamination in the sediments (mud at the bottom of a river) of the entire tidal stretch of the Anacostia River. (For an overview on the issue of toxics pollution and the announcement of this long overdue initiative, check out this blog post.) We’ve been heavily engaged in this process, providing comments on drafts, hosting a community meeting in February, informing residents and others interested in the project at community meetings, and advocating for the cleanup of toxics at all opportunities. To help ensure that this important project moves forward as quickly as possible, AWS and others in the United for a Healthy Anacostia River coalition have urged the District Council to legislate a deadline of 2017 for completion of the sediment study and the issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the project, which details the cleanup plan and assigns responsibilities to pay for it.

Kenilworth Park was formerly a wetland that was filled with sediment from the Anacostia River by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1900s, when sediment needed to be removed to sustain navigability, and managed from then on by the National Park Service (NPS). From the early 1940s to late 1960s, the District of Columbia used a portion of the land for disposal and burning of municipal waste without any controls in place to keep materials from entering the river. The landfill was closed before enactment of the Solid Waste Disposal Act in 1965 and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976 and was capped with soil around 1970 containing roughly 4 million tons of raw refuse, incinerator ash, and other burned residue 25 ft. deep and covering 145 acres.1 A series of events prompted several environmental and public health investigations the first of which in 1998.

Fast forward to 2013, NPS released for public comment a Proposed Plan to remediate the site. We have several concerns with this plan and submitted them for consideration. Generally these concerns are:

  1. Analysis of toxic contamination in the Anacostia River and the site were inadequate,
  2. The site should not be separated into two operable units,
  3. Human health risk assessment failed to consider surface water recreation exposures, and
  4. There was failure to consider any remediation options that go beyond capping the site but are less intensive than a full removal of all contaminated materials and restoration of the site to wetlands.

After considering all comments received, NPS decided to conduct the groundwater investigation, aka Operable Unit 2 (OU2), before selecting a remedy for the site. This testing was completed earlier this year and we are currently waiting for results to be released and a final decision made.


Location of Kenilworth Park taken from map above.

Pepco Benning Road is a facility housing a power plant built in 1906 that provided electric generation, transmission and distribution services in the greater metropolitan Washington area. In 1976, the plant switched from burning coal to fuel oil. From 2002 to 2012 it operated as an intermittent, peak demand electric plant until it officially closed on June 1, 2012.2 The 77-acre facility is still owned and used by Pepco as a maintenance yard. Last year they announced plans to demolish the power plant structure, which occupies a very small portion of the property closest to the river, and much of that work has been done. The implosion of the frame structure and stacks is anticipated this fall; stay tuned!


View of Pepco Benning Road power plant from the Anacostia River.

In fall 2010, the District filed a notice of intent to sue Pepco regarding historic releases of contaminants (e.g., PCBs) to the site and potentially nearby Anacostia River. In December that same year, the District and Pepco reached an agreement to perform a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS). The Consent Decree (legal agreement to resolve an issue) was finalized and released for public comment in February 2011. About a month later AWS, Anacostia Riverkeeper, and Natural Resource Defense Council submitted comments on the Consent Decree. In April 2011, all 3 parties filed a motion to intervene in the Consent Decree because of the lack of solid deadlines and community involvement and participation in the process. In December 2011, our motion to intervene was denied, but the judge permitted us to be amici curiae, “friends of the court.”

AWS has been dedicated to making sure the concerns of the community are heard and fully considered before final decisions are made. We have provided comments on all plans thus far. Sampling of the site is nearly complete, though Pepco and DDOE have fallen behind the original schedule. With the second status report due to the court by May 24, we also anticipate field sampling to be complete by July or August, the remedial investigation report available for public comment this fall, and the feasibility study report available for public comment in early 2015. Be ready for those comment periods! Based on these projections and without further delay, the actual cleanup process could begin in summer 2015.


Location of Pepco Benning Road taken from first map above.

CSX Benning Road Rail Yard is CSX’s major rail yard in the District of Columbia. Since 2005, there have been spills and discharges of petroleum products at this location that violate the District’s Water Pollution Control Act. In February 2011, DC and CSX signed a Consent Decree that requires CSX to:

  1. Contribute $7.5 million to cleanup efforts;
  2. Pay a civil penalty of $500,000;
  3. Reimburse DDOE for future oversight costs;
  4. Conduct a site-wide investigation and natural resource damage assessment to address all petroleum releases; and
  5. Clean up pollutants on or coming from its Benning Road rail yard.3

The Consent Decree was released for a 30-day public comment period. Our concerns for this agreement were: the lack of a robust public engagement process, the lack of a concrete timeline under which CSX must complete obligations, and the uncertainty that this process would result in a thorough assessment and remediation of the site. Since then, CSX has completed the investigation for the landside and a corrective action plan (CAP) for cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater was approved by DDOE last April. This work should begin later this summer. The investigation for the waterside of Fort Dupont Creek and the Anacostia River were finished in 2011. This information is currently being reviewed by DDOE and CSX.


Location of CSX Benning Road Rail Yard taken from first map above.

Washington Gas site along the Anacostia River was used to manufacture gas for almost 100 years, from 1888 through the mid-1980s, on portions of the property until the plant was demolished in 1986. The above-ground oil storage tanks were not removed for another 11 years in 1997. By-products of the gasification process were tar, oil, coal, lampblack, and coke. Operations at this site resulted in contamination of the land and nearby Anacostia River.

In August 2011 Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation, on behalf of AWS and Anacostia Riverkeeper, filed suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to compel cleanup of the former Washington Gas site. DDOE had been negotiating with Washington Gas since at least fall 2010, but we felt it necessary to take legal action of our own in the hopes of keeping the process moving since the remedy selected in the 2006 NPS Record of Decision had not yet been implemented.

This site is located near a major recreational area informally known as Boathouse Row, where hundreds of citizens spend time at four yacht clubs and a major rowing facility. In December 2011 DDOE announced, along with its federal partners, the entry of their draft Consent Decree regarding cleanup of the site. In September 2012 our 2011 suit was dropped after negotiating annual status reports and public meetings regarding those updates would be provided to the communities (look for a status report and meeting sometime this year!). The final consent decree was signed that same year. Cleanup of surface and subsurface soils was scheduled to begin earlier this year, but there have been site issues that have caused delay. We anticipate work starting this summer. The plans for investigations into groundwater, surface water, and sediments will likely be released this fall.


Location of Washington Gas site taken from first map above.

Washington Navy Yard site is on the Superfund National Priorities List. In June 1996, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf several groups, including AWS, against the US Navy and US General Services Administration (GSA) claiming that the agencies were discharging pollutants into the river without a permit and were therefore in violation of the Clean Water Act. The Navy and GSA entered a Consent Decree in April 1998 with the groups mentioned in which the agencies agreed to obtain a permit that contains limits on its stormwater pollution discharges, to remediate contaminated soil from the Navy Yard and Southeast Federal Center sites, and to investigate river sediments for contamination.

In August 2009, the landside investigation revealed that there were several types of contaminants including polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a combination of heavy metals including lead, polycyclic biphenols (PCBs), and dioxins. The Navy has remediated much of the contamination on land. The groundwater investigation is still active with a report on results being reviewed by EPA and DDOE later this spring. The sediments in the river near the Navy Yard have also been investigated; results were reported in 2011 with similar contaminants found. There were data gaps found in the sediment investigation regarding the extent of the contamination and the Navy is currently preparing a feasibility study sampling plan to address those gaps. The draft remedial investigation report for the sediments in the river is under review by DDOE, EPA, and the Navy.


Location of Washington Navy Yard taken from first map above.

Poplar Point is a 110 acre site and, similar to Kenilworth Park and other locations along the river, used to be a wetland. It has since been used for a variety of functions such as plant nurseries and greenhouses (1920s – 1990s) and naval receiving stations (1940s – 1960s). The site is currently used for the NPS NACE Headquarters, U.S. Park Police Anacostia Operations Facility, and U.S. Park Police Aviation Unit facilities. Also on the site are naturally growing plants, various storage buildings, wetlands, and managed meadows.

Several environmental investigations took place at the site starting in the early 1990s, mainly the southwestern portion where the nurseries and greenhouses were operated. Substances posing unacceptable risk to human health or the environment/above screening levels that were found during those investigations in soils, sediments, and groundwater were: metals, pesticides, semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Manganese and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were found above acceptable risk in surface waters.

As part of the 2008 Consent Decree, the District of Columbia agreed to conduct the remedial investigation and feasibility study for the site with NPS oversight. This study was scheduled to start in 2012, but it has been delayed and the investigation will probably not get underway until this summer.


Location of Poplar Point taken from first map above.

More Information:

Click here for an overall timeline of anticipated activities, many of which mentioned above.

For a complete list of cleanup and restoration activities happening in the District and an interactive map see DDOE’s website: http://ddoe.dc.gov/page/anacostia-river-2032-update

While progress is being made at different stages for each of these efforts, many of them are behind schedule. It takes the work and dedication of many environmental advocates to keep things moving along and in the right direction. One way you can help is by signing this petition and getting involved in a much broader newly formed coalition: United for a Healthy Anacostia River. We’ll also keep the updates coming here on our blog and social media sites.

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