By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Passers-by may see large piles of dirt and workers in hazmat suits at the Universal Steel property on Bridge Street in the coming months, as the Environmental Protection Agency cleans up the site for reuse.
Removal of soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl, known as PCB, is expected to take three months.
The building on the 1.2-acre, city-owned site was demolished this month to make way for an eventual parking lot. The former Universal Steel and Trading Co. had been vacant for more than a decade.
The city acquired the property in a tax title foreclosure. Reuse planning for the site has been a collaboration between city, state and federal agencies.
“We’re seeing this through, from start to finish, and this is the middle portion of the project now,” said Emily Zimmerman, community involvement coordinator for the EPA. “It’s been a team effort between the city of Salem, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, EPA and MassDevelopment (an agency that works on challenging real estate development projects).”
The EPA will excavate the first foot of soil across the entire property and dig deeper on “hot spots” where contamination extends deeper into the soil, Zimmerman said.
Soil will be mounded into piles, tarped with plastic covers and eventually trucked off-site to a hazardous waste facility. Excavation workers will wear protective suits and masks — standard procedure for people who work with contamination on a regular basis, Zimmerman said.
In some areas of the site, pockets of PCB contamination are 3 to 6 feet deep.
PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system, according to the EPA website.
PCBs were manufactured in the U.S. from 1929 until they were banned in 1979. The chemicals can be found in electrical equipment, transformers, thermal insulation material, plastics, motor and hydraulic oil, oil-based paint, floor finish, caulking, and other materials.
Universal Steel ran a scrap metal and recycling plant that, among other items, handled fuel storage tanks and transformers.
Zimmerman said the contamination is expected to stay in the soil throughout the entire cleanup process, and not become airborne. As a precaution, the EPA is setting up air-monitoring systems on the site, she said.
The city plans to build a 120-space parking lot at the Universal Steel site, which is slated to be ready by the time construction begins on Salem’s MBTA rail station in the spring.
The MBTA is doing a $37 million upgrade of the train station, which will include a nearly 700-space parking garage. While the station will stay open during construction, many of the parking spaces will be lost.
The EPA began preliminary work — setting up equipment, taking measurements and other tasks — this week. Excavation will begin in earnest in January.
Zimmerman also distributed fliers explaining the cleanup work to abutting neighbors recently.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
Details about the EPA’s cleanup of the Universal Steel property can be found at www.salem.com; click on “Universal Steel — EPA Fact Sheet” under the “city news” heading on the right side of the page.
EPA customer service: 800-EPA-7341