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Mercury clean-up begins at Albany County Superfund site

Abandoned and empty factory site blocked off by chain link fence
Jenna Flanagan
Innovation Trail

Residents in and around the village of Colonie in Albany County will be seeing large excavation vehicles at the former site of the Mercury Refining Company.

For more than forty years the company operated an industrial oven there which was used to extract mercury from things like thermometers and batteries. Mercury contamination of the soil at the factory led the government to declare the site a federal superfund site in 1983.

The Environmental Protection Agency has settled on a plan to clean up the site at the end of Rail Road in the industrial section of town. The clean-up will occur in two phases and will take roughly a year to complete. EPA project manager Tom Mongelli says phase one will take place over the next few weeks. 

“You’ll notice some heavy equipment. They’re will be trucks that are taking excavated soil off site and they’re will be some excavation equipment and other than that you won’t notice too much of a change.”

Exactly 4,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil will be removed from the half-acre site to a secure landfill. Trucks will be cleaned before they leave the site and air monitors will be put in place to prevent any further contamination of the environment. Once the contaminated surface soil and sediment is removed, down to a depth of nine feet, then the area will be refilled with clean soil and vegetation will be planted.  

After the spring thaw, the EPA will return for phase two which involves sealing in the mercury contamination that lies 60 to 70 feet below ground.

Mongelli says this is a common EPA practice known as in-situ stabilization.

“In this case the contamination is so deep that it’s not practical to remove all of it, that’s why we’re gonna' be solidifying the deep contamination. So it is gonna' remain on site but it will be in a way that it’s non accessible for human contact.”

The process involves mixing mercury contaminated soil with a cement and sulfur bearing compound. The cement locks the contamination in place and the sulfur chemically reacts with the mercury, making a block that ground water can’t penetrate and keeps the mercury contained in a solidified mass.

Previous cleanup efforts saw contaminated water end up in Patroon Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River.

However, Mongelli says the EPA’s involvement ends at cleaning up the site.

“We are cleaning up to industrial standards. So there will be institutional controls prohibiting residential use of the property, anything else that would exist on site is up to the town zoning laws.”

The current owner, 26 Rail Road Ave, Inc. is responsible for maintaining the land-use restrictions and to make sure that ground water isn’t disturbed and that drinking water wells are never installed at the site.

The two phase superfund project will cost nine-million dollars to complete, paid for by the main polluters, Mercury Refining Company. Other companies contributing to the clean-up effort include Gillette Company, KeySpan Gas East Corporation, Energizer Battery Manufacturing, Union Carbide Corporation and Spectrum Brands. There are also several other groups, including 19 federal agencies, that were required to make payments into an escrow account to pay for the clean-up.

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