Erie Coke plant cleanup could cost $7 million or more

Cleaning up the former Erie Coke Corp. site is going to be expensive.

The cost to remove hazardous wastes and prepare the Erie bayfront property for future use will likely exceed $7 million, especially if extensive below-ground work is required.

Only $1 million was supplied by Erie Coke when an Erie County judge gave the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection control over a company bank account after the plant closed under pressure from government agencies and environmentalists in December 2019.

“That $1 million is already used up,” said Christopher Guzzetti, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator for the cleanup. He said the DEP “focused on the wastewater found in the tanks on the site and getting it shipped off-site.”

The EPA has been overseeing the site’s cleanup since September, after it was contacted by the DEP and a removal assessment was performed.

EPA officials determined the site required a removal action, one of two types of cleanups under the agency’s Superfund program. Removal actions are designed to mitigate existing threats, and are usually less costly and take less time — usually one to two years — than remedial programs.

“Right now we are focusing on the surface of the site and its buildings, not below the surface,” Guzzetti said. “These are the immediate threats, the tanks, piping and containers. If no one did anything with these, they would deteriorate and probably release material into the environment.”

According to an EPA action memo for the site, there were 25 tanks (capacities ranging from 500 to 400,000 gallons), 5,000 feet of piping, 100 drums, 50 totes and several other containers.

Some of the tanks were known to contain coal tar, which typically has semi-volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other hazardous substances.

“A former Erie Coke employee (who was available during the Removal Site Evaluation) indicated that wastewater tanks contain mercury-contaminated water,” Guzzetti said in the action memo. “Other tanks are labeled ‘weak ammonia liquor,’ which is ammonium hydroxide and deionized water but may also contain benzene, ethyl benzene, xylene, and toluene.”

On any given day, a dozen or more EPA officials and contracted workers are at the site. They are collecting containers of byproducts and other materials, testing them for hazardous materials, then shipping them off-site for proper disposal.

At the same time, a local recycling company is removing nonhazardous material from the site, including old railroad cars and tracks.

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