Crash! Demolition begins at Carter Carburetor plant in North St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

Crash! Demolition begins at Carter Carburetor plant in North St. Louis

Aug 24, 2015

The contaminated buildings of the old Carter Carburetor plant on North Grand Boulevard are finally coming down.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing the clean-up, which started in April 2014 with the removal of asbestos from the large CBI building. Earlier this year, contractors used dry ice to blast away indoor lead paint.

On Monday, demolition of the two-story Wilco building got underway. The CBI building will follow, with all above-ground work expected to be completed by next April.

This video, shot through the chain link fence that surrounds the Carter Carburetor site, shows the excavator removing pieces of the Wilco building, and a "dust boss" machine spraying water. Credit: Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

The EPA's on-scene coordinator, Jeff Weatherford, said because the buildings are contaminated with toxic substances such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, crews won’t be using any wrecking balls or explosives. Instead, excavators with giant, jaw-like attachments are taking the buildings down piece by piece.

The process also involves a machine called a dust boss. "What is it is, is snowmaking technology that's been converted for the environmental field,” Weatherford said. “It sprays out a mist. So, any dust generated from the demolition gets knocked down, and it doesn't come out into the surrounding neighborhood.”

If dust levels exceed the health threshold set by the EPA, a warning email goes out to key project staff to alert them of the problem.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The EPA is responsible for monitoring the air around the site for dust and collecting air samples to test for PCBs.

“We’ve set our thresholds really low,” Weatherford said. If dust levels exceed the health threshold, email messages automatically go out, warning the EPA and others on the project that there’s a problem. “And if we get one of those warnings, we start looking at the situation, and there are several steps in that process, including shutting down work,” Weatherford said.

Tax dollars will pay for the EPA’s monitoring and oversight, but ACF Industries, Inc. — one of the former owners of the Carter Carburetor property — will foot the bill for most of the $26 million clean-up.

Another step of the remediation will involve removing PCB-contaminated soil from the Die Cast area. These days it looks like a parking lot because ACF Industries paid to tear down the Die Cast building in the 1990s so only the foundation remains. But before the plant closed in 1984, heat-resistant PCBs were used there as a hydraulic fluid in die casting, the process used to make the carburetor parts.

“You’re going to see a lot of truck traffic coming in here,” Weatherford said. “The contaminated material will go to a chemical waste landfill in Oklahoma. The non-contaminated and the lesser-contaminated material will go into the hole that’s dug when we remove the contaminated soil.”

James Christopher checks one of the EPA's five Carter Carburetor air monitoring stations in March 2015. Christopher works for TetraTech, Inc., the EPA’s Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team contractor.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Heather Loyd lives in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood and brought her three young children to watch the wrecking crew at work. “Since we home school, I thought, 'What a great opportunity for my kids to actually see what’s going on in their community as it’s actually happening,'” Loyd said. “We need the abandoned buildings gone, we need revitalization and things for the kids to do.”

Frederick Dunlap was also watching the demolition. He’s lived about a block away from Carter Carburetor for 20 years and said he’s glad to see it go. “I just hope it helps to bring more progress within this area, after this goes down,” Dunlap said. “It should change things. I hope so, anyway.”

He said the cleanup had been a long time coming. The plant closed in the mid-1980s and was designated as a federal Superfund site in 1992.

The Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club is located across Dodier Street from the former Carter Carburetor plant.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The EPA’s Weatherford said once the remediation is complete, the land will be clean enough for recreational use — but no homes will be allowed there, because some contamination could remain underground. “There will be no contamination on the surface, we’ll make sure of that,” Weatherford said.

Dunlap said he’d like to see a commercial development with a grocery store go up there. According to Weatherford, one plan under consideration would convert the area into a golf course that the neighboring Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club would use and help manage.

For science, environment and health news, follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience