A Philadelphia-area parcel of land that was once home to one of the biggest asbestos messes in the country is being redeveloped, and homeowners who live nearby are concerned that asbestos at the old BoRit site is being disturbed without due caution.
According to the local Times Herald newspaper, workers with Ambler Crossing Development Partners are on site to remediate the 4.6-acre contaminated parcel, readying it for a 115-unit apartment complex.
While some area residents will welcome the opportunity to see something in the spot other than large mounds of asbestos, concern was raised by a local group of citizens who keep an eye on the site, which was once home to Keasbey and Mattison, Turner and Newall, and CertainTeed, all companies that manufactured asbestos products.
Diane Morgan, a member of the BoRit CAG, an organization established to represent the interests of communities surrounding the 32-acre BoRit asbestos area, released a statement on May 25 declaring that she feared disturbing asbestos fibers as construction work would cause them to go airborne or be washed into the Wissahickon Creek, the Times Herald reported.
Morgan and others like her believe the tract should simply be left alone and that nothing should ever be built in the area that was once referred to as “the white hills of Ambler”. But the politicians disagree.
“Once borough council voted on it, there was no recourse. It shouldn’t be built on; that’s the bottom line,” Morgan maintains.
Nonetheless, the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved a clean-up plan for this portion of the site, which is to be carried out before any construction begins.
The DEP is confident that the plan will keep locals and others from being exposed to errant asbestos fibers.
Though the DEP will oversee the remediation of the acreage in question, they have no enforcement capability. All they can do is issue fines, explained council member Sharon McCormick, the only member to vote against the development.
There was a “visible emission” of asbestos in 2010 when buildings on the site were taken down, “but DEP didn’t do anything,” McCormick said. “Some building debris sat in the street for four years; there was 50 percent asbestos in the rubble.”
“The central question is how is it possible that a parcel 10-feet away from a Superfund site is going to have an apartment complex with a pool and green space for children to play on,” she said. The Ambler Piles “are failing and required more than $1 million to repair again.”
“The EPA told Ambler over and over again [that] asbestos waste can’t be dug into,” McCormick said. “Why the same concern is not on the same waste a few feet away [from the Superfund site] makes no sense to me.”
Ambler Borough manager Mary Aversa says people are jumping the gun and that remediation hasn’t even started yet.
“We’re looking into this and are not aware of any construction. Nothing has been submitted for permits.
“There are four watering devices on site, and air sampling is being conducted every day,” Aversa said. “There are mechanisms in place to prevent discharge into the Wissahickon Creek, claiming that they are not is incorrect,” she added.
Nonetheless, Morgan stresses that building on this spot is a recipe for disaster, perhaps not tomorrow but some 30 years from now.
“They feel they can meet requirements by capping it and building on it,” Morgan said. “Toxins go with the water and underground animals burrow up and disturb the area. If you’re going to do it, you have to do it safely.”