ADDISON COUNTY — After the Toxics Action Center published a January report illuminating 1,421 hazardous waste sites across Vermont, and 214 in Addison County, it’s understandable that many local residents are concerned about the safety of their land.
Fortunately, the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC) has funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to run a Brownfield Program, which identifies and assesses contaminated sites at no or low cost to qualifying property owners in Addison County.
The Brownfield Program does not usually cover the tab for clean up, but according to ACRPC Executive Director Adam Lougee, “We often do a little bit of remediation that is incidental to the assessment of a property, and we will help owners locate funds, particularly for petroleum incidents.”
A “brownfield” is a label for a hazardous waste site that is open for development. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources defines hazardous waste as a solid, liquid, gaseous or semi-solid form that is toxic, corrosive, ignitable or reactive and contributes to severe illness, allergic reactions or, in some cases, death. According to the Toxics Action Center, established sites for the treatment, storage and disposal of these wastes are considered hazardous waste sites. Such sites include, but are not limited to, schools, gas stations, salvage yards and landfills.
What this means is that all hazardous waste sites are not an imminent risk to society, but could potentially be.
“The overall goal of the Brownfield Program is to help redevelop abandoned and underutilized sites that no one is willing to invest in without knowing the extent of the contamination,” said Lougee.
“ACRPC currently has brownfield money available to assess the extent of pollution on qualifying properties contaminated with petroleum,” said Lougee.
What exactly is a qualifying property? According to Lougee, “Qualifying properties are generally those where the current landowner did not cause the contamination and that have plans to be redeveloped into a more useful function.”
ADDISON COUNTY CLEAN UP
The ACRPC’s Brownfield Program was awarded $400,000 in grant money from the EPA in 2007 and 2008 to identify and assess petroleum and other hazardous waste contamination from pesticides, cleaning solvents and heavy metal contamination, among others. Of the $400,000 in federal funds, only $100,000 for petroleum incidents remains.
But, if these funds aren’t used by June 30, they will expire.
“If there are other projects out there, I’m sure we could find money if need is demonstrated,” said Lougee.
Although 214 hazardous waste sites have been identified, in many cases other instances of contamination in Addison County goes “under the radar,” said ACRPC Regional Planner Kevin Lehman.
Lougee cited three reasons for the underreporting of toxic contamination to county properties:
• “Some people don’t know about our program.”
• “Fuel tanks are buried under the ground. So, some people may not know they have a problem and therefore may not be looking for help.”
• “Some people that do know that they may have a hazardous waste product on their site may not want to participate. They may not want to know the answer and do a site assessment.”
Lougee urges anyone who may have a petroleum spill or other potential toxic waste issue to call his agency to see what help is available.
“If somebody is in doubt, give us a call,” he said. “I can’t guarantee that we can offer our help, but we’ll take a look at the property and see what we can do within the boundaries of the program.”
When Addison County residents do report instances of contamination to ACRPC, the organization has had a number of successes.
One success story is Ripton’s Vermont Elks Silver Tower Camp for Exceptional People. In 2008, ACRPC worked with a group of engineers to remove 13 underground fuel storage tanks leaking into the camp’s soil.
“Some tanks were leaking petroleum products, some were home heating oil and some were gasoline,” said Lougee. “Ultimately, ACRPC funding removed and properly disposed of 13 underground storage tanks from the property.”
ACRPC then helped the camp enroll in the State of Vermont Petroleum Cleanup Fund to pay for additional remediation that the regional planning commission could not cover.
This type of situation is not unusual, according to Jessica Edgerly, co-author of the Toxics Action Center’s “Toxics in Vermont: A Town by Town Profile.”
“Most of the hazardous waste sites in Vermont are caused by petroleum products,” she said.
Home to 15 percent of total statewide hazardous waste sites, Addison County does not have many reported contamination issues.
“We are fortunate in Addison County that there is not a great deal of toxic contamination,” said Lehman.
But, it seems that large swathes of contaminated land will sometimes go unnoticed or unreported.
“Over the years many gas and oil tanks have been buried. In these cases, all it takes is a small leak to contaminate the surrounding soil,” said Lehman. “One of our challenges is finding these sites, since property owners may not know of these potential issues or may not know that assistance is available through ACRPC’s Brownfield Program.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]