by Alex Brooks
In the course of its investigation of PFOA contamination at its industrial sites in Hoosick Falls where PFOA was used, Honeywell has found levels of several Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) exceeding federal standards in groundwater at a site on lower John Street owned by the company and formerly used by its predecessor companies.
[private]VOCs can easily enter the air as gases and move through the soil with the air. The DEC press release said when VOCs are detected at levels higher than the federal guidelines, investigations are routinely undertaken to check surrounding properties for “Soil Vapor Intrusion,” which refers to the possibility that the VOCs could move through the soil to neighboring properties and move into the indoor air of the houses through the basement.
The New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Health (DOH) have directed Honeywell to immediately conduct a soil vapor intrusion investigation testing houses near the company’s former John St. facility, and to take immediate remediation actions if VOCs are found to be entering the homes.
Under the supervision of DEC and DOH, Honeywell representatives have conducted a door-to-door outreach effort to engage property owners and tenants at approximately 39 properties within the identified area near the former John St. facility, and solicit participation in a sampling program. They were accompanied by DEC and DOH staff as a part of the State’s active oversight of the investigation. Residents who did not receive information in person will receive a mailing soliciting participation. Fedex packages containing access agreements and fact sheets about the investigation were supposed to arrive at residences in the affected area by Tuesday February 14.
All of the homes in the area are on the municipal water system, so there is no danger of VOCs getting into the drinking water from this source. The concern is that VOCs may have made their way into the indoor air at homes near the site. Homeowners must give Honeywell permission to enter the homes and do the testing. After access is granted by property owners, Honeywell’s contractors will collect samples from these properties’ basements, immediately beneath the basements’ floors, and outside of each building. Air samples will be collected over a 24-hour period. The sampling regimen requires installation of a sampling port through the basement floor and evaluation of whether volatile chemicals are used or stored within the home. Property owners will receive their results from Honeywell and its contractor within 30 days of validation.
Based on a review of the results, DOH will recommend appropriate actions for Honeywell to undertake, which may include no further action, resampling, ongoing monitoring, or mitigation. Mitigation might involve simply tightening up the basement so air can’t get in, or if more aggressive measures are required, it involves installing an apparatus known as a sub-slab depressurization system which removes the contaminant from the ground before it has the chance to enter the home. This is typically a piping system under the slab sucking in air from the soil and venting it above the house’s roofline, very similar to the equipment used to protect a house from radon infiltration. Honeywell will be responsible for the cost of all resampling, monitoring and mitigation efforts.
The area where the investigation will take place is from the corner of First Street and Surdam Street across to where RGI Insurance is on Church Street, north to the river. The area is bounded on the west by First Street and then the railroad, and on the east by Church Street.
The building where the factory used to be no longer exists – it was demolished some years ago. The testing was done in the soil of the empty lot where it formerly stood, between Lyman Street and the Woods Brook spillway on the south side of Lower John Street.
Volatile Organic Compounds are introduced into our indoor air from a wide variety of household products. These might include paint thinner, oil-based paint, nail polish or nail polish remover, hair spray, aerosol or liquid pest control products, various kinds of glue, degreasers and other automotive cleaning products. In addition, new carpets and new furniture off-gasses VOCs.
The New York State Department of Health website said this about health effects of VOCs – “Short-term exposure to high levels of some VOCs can cause headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, drowsiness, nausea, and eye and respiratory irritation. These effects usually go away after the exposure stops. In laboratory animals, longterm exposure to high levels of some VOCs has caused cancer and affected the liver, kidney and nervous system. In general, we recommend minimizing exposure to chemicals, if possible.”
Honeywell spokesman John Morris came to the Village Board meeting on Tuesday, February 14, gave a brief presentation, and answered questions from the public for two hours.
He said a total of 8 compounds had been found at various locations on or near the site of the former Allied Signal Plant on lower John Street, at varying depths and concentrations. TCE, for instance, was found in quantities varying from 10 to 100 parts per billion. The Federal standard is 5 parts per billion. He said although a reading twenty times the federal standard may seem like a lot, he noted that 100 parts per billion is still a very tiny amount, similar to the ratio of the number of people currently in the room (60 to 80 people) to the entire population of the earth, and way below the levels of exposure that have been shown to cause disease. He characterized the concentrations as small compared to other toxic sites, and said he does not expect levels of VOCs in surrounding houses to be at dangerous levels, but he emphasized that the situation should be fully investigated to make sure that none of the nearby houses have unhealthy indoor air from these VOCs.
He said the plume of VOCs starts at the former site of the Allied Signal plant, and is moving north towards the river. When asked what happens when it gets to the river, he said “It disappears. It rapidly gets diluted to the point where we can’t detect it anymore.” [/private]