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EPA pushes Carter Carburetor site cleanup

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 31, 2011 - WASHINGTON - Federal environmental officials took an important enforcement action Wednesday toward the $26.5 million cleanup of toxic pollutants at the old Carter Carburetor property, which has been an eyesore for a quarter century and a worry to its north St. Louis neighbors, including the nearby Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club.

Under its Enforcement Action Memorandum (link is to a PDF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally requested final approval for its plans to clean up PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl), a chemical from old electric transformers and hydraulic fluids and TCE (Trichloroethene), a solvent that was banned in the 1970s in the soil and buildings at the site.

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, said Wednesday that "this cleanup is absolutely critical because so many children are potentially at risk across the street at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club. The neighborhood deserves a clean and safe environment to raise children, create new business opportunities and grow jobs."

The Carter Carburetor site, near the corner of Grand Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue, has been an environmental concern since the late 1980s, when the St. Louis Health Department and the EPA investigated complaints of solvent vapors in the area. It was once the site of a thriving carburetor production plant -- with an estimated 3,000 workers in 1960 -- that closed in 1984, at the time owned by ACF Industries.

There have been numerous cleanup plans, lawsuits, public hearings and other actions related to the site since the 1980s, including disputes involving ownership of the property and responsibility for the cleanup costs. "Cleaning up this highly contaminated site is my number one environmental priority in the City of St. Louis," Clay said in a statement. "I have been fighting to win this approval for years, and I want to thank President Obama and the leadership at EPA for acting decisively on my request."

The enforcement memorandum details how the agency plans to remove the toxic chemicals from the site, including the use of "thermally enhanced extraction" of PCBs and TCE from subsurface soils and the removal of PCBs in two buildings.

In the coming weeks, EPA experts are expected to take soil samples from various sites in the neighborhood to see if any of the pollutants had migrated off the site. A public hearing will also be scheduled early next month to allow neighborhood residents to ask questions about the cleanup plans.

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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