Remediation of the former site of Fenton Art Glass is underway in Williamstown as construction crews prepare to build a new elementary school at that location. Even so, several individuals have voiced their concerns to RCNN over the safety of the property.
The Wood County Board of Education approved a plan to remove toxic chemicals left behind from more than 100 years of decorative glassmaking. Concerned residents and parents fear the planned remediation may not be thorough enough to preserve the health of future students at the site.
Earlier this month RCNN reported in addition to lead, sand, soda ash and lime; several coloring agents were used at Fenton including: antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, nickel, selenium, and zinc. These heavy metals were used in powder form and prior to modern environmental requirements and recycling endeavors were dumped onsite. The Fenton company also had a permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to use depleted uranium oxide in the coloring process. (Prior to 1958 glass companies were not required to use depleted uranium.)
Experts say remediation is possible by removing all of the contaminated material and the ground around it. However, thorough testing is also necessary to make sure that all of the contaminated material has been removed.
Wood County Board of Education Superintendent Will Hosaflook said the haul-off of the hazardous materials was expected to be completed this week. He said the engineering company Potesta & Associates would be responsible for testing the site.
“Potesta is reporting findings to WVDEP. If contaminants are still found, the Wood Co. BOE will make a decision,” Hosaflook said.
In response to our initial inquiry, Jake Glace, Communications Director for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said, “During the geo-technical investigation for the foundation of the school, the engineering firm discovered a pocket of cullet, which is waste glass produced during the glass-making process. This material is being removed and disposed of off-site.”
RCNN inquired about DEP’s role in the project, what sampling would be required, and what thresholds would have to be met regarding these specific contaminants in order for the site to be suitable for an elementary school. RCNN also inquired about a capped landfill at the site, which is never to be disturbed.
“First it is important to understand that we are talking about two different locations – the remediation site and the school construction site. You shouldn’t confuse the two – and it’s very important that you don’t,” Glance said. “The site where the school is being built is not the site where remediation action that you described was conducted. That remediation action did involve capping an area of cullet disposal – and that area is not being disturbed as part of this construction. That cap is several feet below the surface and should pose no threat to human health, unless the area under the cap is dug up and the unearthed material is ingested.”
“The role of WVDEP in this process can be defined as advisory to both the BOE and to the BOE’s engineering firm. They came to WVDEP with the results of their geo-technical investigation and requested options on how to proceed. And as I stated previously, the pocket of cullet that was discovered during that geo-technical investigation of the site where the school is being built is being completely removed and safely disposed of off-site. To do this was the decision of the BOE and the BOE’s engineering firm, not WVDEP.”
Glance said sampling results would be available under the Freedom of Information Act. RCNN formally requested that data.
He described the distinction between the two sites this way, “The area that was capped is not where the school is being built. The cap is not being disturbed as part of this construction. So, the first site is where the school is being built and the second site is where the cap is. You can have one big piece of property but not all of it is being built on or disturbed.”
Independent experts tell RCNN that site plans obtained from the Wood County Board of Education show that the basketball courts and track field would be located closest to the most problematic areas of the property.
Glance added an interesting footnote to his response, “WVDEP headquarters in Charleston is built on an old glass factory site that was capped decades ago. There is also a mall, a DMV regional office, restaurants, a grocery store, a hospital, and banks on this site or nearby now.”