State close to seeking plan from Philips for cleanup
File Photo The Philips Lighting plant on Valksdahl Avenue has been closed since February 2011. (November 15, 2012)
Since the plant on Valksdahl Avenue closed in February 2011, the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Waste Management has required several rounds of testing.
Soil samples taken this summer found levels of lead and arsenic soil contamination higher than residential or industrial limits in and around the primary drainage passage on the eastern part of the property, referred to in reports as “Outfall 001.”
The state required additional testing at distances farther away from the factory in both that area, which drains into a tributary of Clark’s Run, and surrounding the northern part of the site.
On Wednesday, Tim Hubbard, assistant director of the state Division of Waste Management, said there was enough evidence of elevated arsenic and lead to ask for yet another round of downstream sediment sampling.
Hubbard said the next step will be a final report summarizing on- and off-site contamination, which Philips must submit by Jan 18. However, according to Bart Shaffer with the division’s corrective actions unit, in the next several weeks the company will be asked to prepare an interim remedial action plan to expedite cleaning up what appears to be fairly widespread off-site pollution.
Shaffer said requiring an interim measures plan, and ostensibly getting started with cleaning up sooner, makes more sense because so many areas with lead and arsenic already have been identified. He said the formal remediation process will be more time consuming.
Under the interim remediation scenario, Philips will have to present a proposal for how it will clean up the site, which the state will then evaluate.
There still isn’t a hard deadline for when the company will have to comply. In August, state officials said the contamination likely didn’t pose any immediate threat to public health, in part because what has been found so far is in a mostly wooded area owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad. However, in large part because the site does not have restricted access, Shaffer said the situation is serious enough to require more timely action.
“We have some concerns about that,” Shaffer said. “From what we can tell, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of use of that property, but given the sediment contamination there, we are concerned about it.”
Hubbard said the interim measures plan also will include containing storm water runoff from the site. Waste management officials declined to offer an estimate of how expensive the undertaking may be, only saying it will be costly. The remediation likely will entail removal and disposal of massive quantities of contaminated earth, one official said.
“This is going to be a huge job,” Shaffer said.
On Wednesday, a Philips representative reinforced comments made to The Advocate-Messenger in August about the task of cleaning up the property. At that time, a spokeswoman said remediation had been ongoing at the plant for more than 20 years, much of it to deal with contamination “inherited” after Philips purchased the property from Corning in 1983.
“We have been and will continue to work cooperatively with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection (KDEP) to properly address all known site conditions,” spokeswoman Amy Shanler wrote in an email. “The cost and the scope of the remediation will be determined by the actions that are required to properly address all of the environmental conditions on the site to the satisfaction of the KDEP.”
It also remains to be seen if and when the property will return to use.
Talks between the company and former Philips employee Anna Broughton about her company NeoStar Glass taking over the plant broke down earlier this year. She claimed the company did not negotiate in good faith and also balked at the idea of paying for an expensive cleanup and refurbishing of the plant itself.
Broughton has since moved on to looking at different options for her specialty glass manufacturing venture.
Jody Lassiter, president and chief executive officer of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, had expressed disappointment with the company after the negotiations with Broughton stalled. However, he said he has continued to work with Philips to try to find a buyer.
Lassiter said Wednesday the EDP and Philips’ Realtor, Jones Lang LaSalle, have addressed several inquiries about the property and are “working in partnership with Philips in response to a prospect now.” He said the impending remediation issue does not present an obstacle to the property’s reuse as an industrial site and will be fully disclosed to any potential purchaser.
“We are willing to work with any party intending to purchase and utilize the facility to ensure that remediation efforts will not delay or hinder the reuse of the property,” Shanler, the Philips spokeswoman, wrote.
Hubbard reiterated that Philips will be responsible for any cleanup regardless of whether the property sells and a buyer agrees to handle the work.
At one time, Philips employed several hundred people involved in the manufacturing of lighting glass, but there were only about 80 workers left when the factory closed for good. The facility was built by Corning Glass Works in 1952 and was purchased by Philips in 1983.