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Officials kick off cleaning up Carter Carburetor Superfund Site

Carter Carburetor was a major manufacturing plant from 1915 to 1984. Officials announced that the facility undergo a $30 million environmental cleanup.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 29, 2013: Federal and local officials marked a milestone today in cleaning up the Carter Carburetor Superfund site in north St. Louis. The polluted and abandoned manufacturing facility has sat dormant for several decades.

Flanked by elected officials, such as U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday a plan to clean up the 10-acre site.

The agency now has separate agreements with ACF Industries and Carter Building Inc. to go forward with a $30 million environmental cleanup at the site on North Grand Avenue in St. Louis.

“This project here – which is about to kickoff behind us – represents one of the toughest solutions we have ever come up with to a very complicated series of problems,” said Karl Brooks, the EPA’s regional administrator for four Midwestern states.

The Carter Carburetor site is a former gasoline and diesel carburetor manufacturing plant that operated from 1915 until 1984. The site, according to EPA officials, contains high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), trichloroethylene (TCE), and asbestos.

The EPA had negotiated with CBI and ACF Industries for years to clean up the site. Two ACF Industries subsidiaries – Carter Carburetor Corp. and Carter Automotive Products – manufactured products at the site, while CBI previously owned the main manufacturing building and currently owns what’s known as the Wilco building.

The ACF settlement was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this year, and it approved a separate settlement with CBI earlier this month. While the cleanup has no exact deadline for completion, initial work to clear debris from the buildings is expected to begin within the next month.

“Because we stood together to demand environmental justice, we have achieved a great victory for this resilient and historic neighborhood,” Clay said.  "We have transformed a brownfield into a potential green field for job creation. And we should empower this community by turning it green.”

Brooks said that the two companies would pay for the cleanup costs, adding that EPA officials will monitor the progress of the project. According to a handout from the EPA, the steps of the cleanup include “building preparation, asbestos abatement, building demolition, and soil cleanup or removal.”  

“This is not EPA’s first rodeo,” Brooks said. “We’ve handled complex plans in major cities in the Midwest now for 42 years. We have a very good track record of making sure the contractors do their part, that the responsible parties pay their share and the project meets the legal test of being safe for the community and an asset for the community.”

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, makes remarks about the $30 million cleanup. 

Asked why it took so long to get the cleanup underway, Brooks said, "I recognize that for someone who travels each day down Grand, this has been an eyesore and this has been an embarrassment.

“It became clear that this agency needed to put its shoulder down and get something done,” he added. “And we did get something done.”

In response to a similar question, Clay said, “You know and I know that throughout this country there are brownfields in all urban areas because of the neglect of the polluters. Don’t blame the government, don’t put it on them. And you know the federal government moves sometimes slow."

But, he concluded, "I think the real victory here is we have got to this day.”

Psychological victory

Besides the enviornmental benefits of cleaning up the site, several officials see the project as ridding the Fairground South neighborhood of a high-profile eyesore. 

Clay said that he told then-Sen. Barack Obama about the site five years ago, adding that "long-time residents of this neighborhood ... have lived in fear of this awful eyesore for almost 30 years." Slay called the site "left in deplorable condition." 

The Carter Carburetor site is located across the street from the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, which is also the former site of Sportsman’s Park. Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis President Flint Fowler said the cleanup would mean a “safer neighborhood for kids, families and area businesses.” And he added it would mean an end to the “neglect and woeful disregard for the welfare of people who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

The building, Fowler said, "has systematically damaged the pysche of our young people by allowing ugliness to prevail at a time when they need as much beauty and love as they can get.

“If this is what you see day in and day out, eventually it’s going to dull your senses to some degree,” Fowler said in an interview with the Beacon. “But if this were manicured lawns or trees or flowers or something that’s attractive that would stimulate you, that’s even better.”

Once the area is declared environmentally safe, Fowler said the Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis will have the option to acquire it. It’s possible, he said, that the club would use some of the space or it could be used for other commercial ventures.

“There are probably a number of things that come to mind,” Fowler said. “If there’s a chance to attract some level of businesses, this is a pretty nice-sized footprint. And with the new bridge coming in, it would be readily accessible. A business venture would be possible.”

Clay said it would ultimately be up to the surrounding neighborhoods about what comes next once the cleanup is complete. 

“If you listen to the people who showed up today from the neighborhood, they talk about for years they’ve been passing the site and it seemed like no one cared about it,” Clay said. “And so really, when you think about it today, their prayers were answered. Because we do care.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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