EPA, residents split over cleanup of Connecticut Superfund site
Residents of Stratford, Ct. want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use a new technology that neutralizes asbestos-contaminated waste to clean up a local Superfund site.
The technology, called thermochemical conversion, was developed by a Seattle company, ARI Technologies. It involves mixing contaminated waste with de-mineralizing agents and then heating the material in a rotary hearth furnace. The company says thermonuclear conversion “results in permanent destruction” of inorganic compounds such as asbestos.
ARI Technologies President Dale Timmons told the Connecticut Post in November that the process destroys the atoms that make up asbestos and yields clean fill soil.
"We came up with a way to destroy all of the asbestos fibers — and that means every single one — and detoxify the waste so that we have something that can be used and recycled as clean fill soil,” Timmons said. “So there's zero asbestos left in the fill."
A group of local residents, Save Stratford, wants the EPA to consider using thermochemical conversion to detoxify waste at the Raymark Superfund site, comprising numerous areas in town where manufacturing waste from a former industrial facility was dumped.
Though the residents want the waste removed, federal officials have advocated capping, in which waste is buried beneath layers of clean soil and other materials. The Raymark site currently has one permanent cap and three temporary caps, with a second permanent cap in the works. The EPA says capping prevents people from coming into contact with waste and seals out moisture to prevent toxins from contaminating the local water supply.
Tom Smith, co-founder of Save Stratford, said the disagreement over how best to clean up the Superfund site has created a rift between regulators and residents worried about safety and costs.
"Save Stratford believes the community will get behind using this to clean up the waste because it completely gets rid of it. Once it's gone, it's gone," Smith told the Post. "We don't have to worry about caps failing. We don't have to worry about constant maintenance. This eliminates the hundreds of thousands of dollars of ongoing maintenance costs the government spends here each year."
In December, Timmons estimated that to design and build a system large enough to process the Raymark waste would cost roughly $20 million. Mobilizing and demobilizing the system would cost another $20 million. Timmons said 350 tons of Raymark waste could be treated per day.
The EPA’s remediation fund for the Raymark site stands at about $21 million, according to the Post.
In 2003, ARI Technologies tested its thermochemical conversion process for the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is owned and operated by the Department of Energy. The goal was to evaluate the technology’s ability to immobilize radionuclides, PCBs and toxic metals in waste at DOE facilities.
Timmons presented the results of the test, which involved destroying five tons of asbestos-containing material, at the International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and Environmental Remediation in England.
“This full-scale technology deployment demonstrated economical asbestos destruction and effective immobilization of lead, cadmium, barium and arsenic,” he said. “Cerium oxide and non-radioactive cesium were also immobilized.”
The company has also conducted demonstration projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and at the DOE’s Hanford facility, the most contaminated nuclear site in the country. The projects were all successful, according to ARI’s website.
Jim Murphy, a community outreach coordinator for the EPA, told the Post that the agency will continue to explore the use of thermochemical conversion in Stratford. But, he said, while the EPA has approved the process for hazardous waste disposal, it may not work with the mix asbestos, lead and PCBs or copper at the Raymark site.
"It would be great if there was something that would work that everyone could agree on. We welcome new technologies," Murphy said. "But this is not something that's going to happen overnight."