EPA Approves First-Ever Residential Redevelopment on a Superfund Site in Region 1
Change-of-land use approval at 130+ year old glue factory opens new pathway for residential redevelopment projects at Superfund sites under CERCLA.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted the first-ever approval to redevelop the Industri-Plex Superfund site on the National Priorities List (NPL) for residential reuse in Woburn, Massachusetts. Prior to the approval, EPA had never engaged in a change-of-land use for a Superfund site in Region 1.
The Industri-Plex Superfund site is a former chemical and glue manufacturing facility that used chemicals intensively throughout its operating life, including lead-arsenic insecticides, acetic acid, and sulfuric acid, for local textile, leather, and paper manufacturing industries from 1853 to 1931. From 1934 to 1969, other industries began operating onsite using phenol, benzene, and toluene. The Industri-Plex Superfund site was also used to manufacture glue from raw animal hide and chrome-tanned hide wastes.
During the 1970s, the site was developed for industrial use. During this period, residues from animal hide wastes used in the manufacture of glue were relocated on-site from buried pits to piles near swampy areas on the property. Many of the animal hide piles and lagoons on-site were leaching toxic metals into the environment. Portions of the animal hide piles sloughed off, causing the release of hydrogen sulfide gases into the atmosphere and toxic metals into the surrounding wetlands.
In the 1980's, the site contained streams and ponds, a warehouse and office buildings, remnant manufacturing buildings, and hide waste deposits buried on the site. The by-products and residues from these industries caused the site’s soils to become severely contaminated with elevated levels of metals, such as arsenic, lead and chrome.
In 1986, EPA took initial action by installing 10,000 feet of fence to restrict site access. Extensive damage to the main areas of the fence occurred, and drums were dumped illegally on the site. Areas of the fence requiring repairs were identified by the EPA, and work to re-secure the site was completed in 1988.
Excavations uncovered and mixed industrial by-products and wastes accumulated over 130 years of intense land use and sloppy chemical management and disposal practices. Animal hide residues were found on approximately 20 acres of the site in four different piles.
EPA selected a cleanup remedy that was initiated by the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) in 1989 to:
1) Design and construct permeable caps over approximately 105 acres of soils and sediments contaminated with lead, arsenic, and chromium in excessive levels of 300 parts per million (ppm), 600 ppm, and 1000 ppm, respectively. The permeable caps may consist of various designed covers containing 16 inches of clean fill and a geotextile fabric placed over the contaminated soils and sediments, as well as equivalent covers like concrete foundations or bituminous parking lots. This portion of the remedy serves to prevent physical contact with the contaminated soils and sediments, including the West, East-Central and South Hide Piles;
2) Design and construct an impermeable cap over the approximately 5 acres of East Hide Pile, and gas collection and treatment system. This portion of the remedy serves to prevent the infiltration of water through the hide pile, and prevent the release of hydrogen sulfide gas into the atmosphere;
3) Design and construct an interim groundwater treatment system to treat a groundwater hot spot contaminated with toluene and benzene. This interim system is designed to reduce the concentration of the hot spot by eighty percent and limit contamination migration off-site;
4) Conduct a Groundwater and Surface Water Investigation Plan (GSIP) to evaluate the degree of groundwater and surface water contamination from the site; and
5) Design and implement Institutional Controls for the site which will restrict future land use. The purpose of the Institutional Controls is to preserve the effectiveness of the remedy, so that human health and the environment remains protected, and allow each property owner the fullest possible use of their property.
EPA had categorized the property as Class B and C land and thus limited to commercial and industrial redevelopment only. Residences, however, are located within 1,000 feet of the site. The site is also served by transit stations and major highways in close proximity, giving the site latent residential development potential. And more than 34,000 people live within 3 miles of the site—which lays within Greater Boston’s growing but increasingly land-scarce residential housing market.
Residential reuse of any portion of the site would provide that much more invaluable square feet to a bursting Boston, but precious few Superfund sites have ever been approved for residential redevelopment anywhere in the U.S.
So, the site’s residential reuse is making history. With EPA’s approval of the site’s change-of-land use, developers are now cleared to proceed with a planned multi-family residential redevelopment. The unprecedented approval of the Industri-Plex Superfund site in Woburn, Massachusetts opens a new pathway for how future residential redevelopment projects can proceed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which gave birth to the Superfund and governs how we deal with the country’s most polluted and dangerous properties.
As the project moves forward into construction, EPA will continue to oversee progress on the site by reviewing reports and inspecting activities. Already, however, the trailblazing Industri-Plex Superfund site redevelopment has managed a number of substantial achievements, including:
- Being EPA’s first-ever residential redevelopment approval on a Region 1 Superfund site
- Substantiating the site was safe for residential use
- Creating a new model for how future redevelopment projects can proceed under CERCLA
- Demonstrating the Class C land restriction could be removed from the property, eliminating the need for long-term legacy management of a protective cover
- Allowing for residential use of the property, with no restrictions on shallow soils, and no remediation burden through an Explanation of Significant Differences (ESD) determination, as opposed to a Record of Decision (ROD) amendment
- Saving in excess of $500,000 in remediation costs
- Facilitating the first-time dialogue between residential redevelopers and EPA in Region 1
With market forces continuing to put new pressures on land uses and technological improvements continue to open redevelopment possibilities on sites once thought to be too expensive, we expect to see more Superfund sites approved for residential redevelopment. Finally, it seems, Superfund sites can explore the complete spectrum of potential land uses—residential, commercial and industrial—in search of its highest and best use.
Superfund sites in the right locations, anyway. Location is still the first and last rule of real estate development; and is likely to always be.
For more information about the Industri-Plex Superfund site, please visit EPA's website here.
A Redfield is real property with known environmental contaminants or conditions that the owner, the government or a reliable third party have determined is in need of remediation as a prerequisite to future development—to mitigate potential human health risks or to comply with environmental laws. Unlike a Brownfield, there is no doubt about whether a Redfield requires remediation.