2005 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 27 Sep 2005 18:45:48 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Twin Cities plant vapor intrusion
[Please excuse the duplicate posting. - LS]

The Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, in Minnesota, is a non-BRAC closure and a Superfund (National Priorities List) site with extensive TCE pollution in groundwater. The Army plans to dispose of the property through the General Services Administration. The city of Arden Hills hopes to purchase 455 acres of the property for private development, primarily housing.

U.S. EPA and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency believe that there is a potential for vapor intrusion if the property is redeveloped, but the Army refuses to address that pathway. From my distant vantage point, I believe the Army is doubly wrong. However, I would appreciate additional information, confirming or challenging my observations, from people who are closer to the situation.

1. The Army has said that it will not transfer the property to Arden Hills if it is required to clean the property to a standard that will support the city's proposed residential use. This flies in the face of federal policy, which for more than a decade has said that Superfund cleanups should support reasonably anticipated future land use. It also ignores promises, made at BRAC (base realignment and closure) sites, that the military would conduct remediation to support communities' reuse plans.

It is the obligation of polluters to remediate their property. Sometimes, they are permitted to conduct partial cleanups if, under expected land use, there is no exposure above established standards. In this case, however, the Army is attempting to restrict the land use, unless it can be assured that the city or private developer will assume responsibility for investigating and remedial potential vapor intrusion.

Under this scenario, the purchasers will not know anything about the vapor intrusion risks when they agree to take over responsibility. If the problem turns out to be bigger than they estimate, either the developer and city will take a financial loss or the new residents will be exposed to both health and financial risks. In theory, the developer or city can take out environmental insurance, but why would a reputable insurance company write a cost-effective policy in the absence of credible information?

2. The Army apparently contends that it doesn't need to conduct a vapor intrusion investigation because it anticipates continuing non-residential use. Though EPA's 2002 Vapor Intrusion Guidance may be interpreted this way, subsequent clarifications and investigations by EPA regions suggest otherwise. If vapor exposures result from historic contamination, not the continuing use of the hazardous substance in question, then the Occupational Safety and Health Administration - and its state counterparts - do not have jurisdiction.

Vapor intrusion investigations and responses are now taking place in non-residential settings, including within my own community of Mountain View. There are two major differences for residential responses. First, exposure standards are higher (less protective), but only by a factor of about three, to account for the fact that workers go home. Second, commercial structures can more easily use certain mitigation systems, such as positive air pressure from heating and cooling systems, to minimize vapor intrusion.

I believe all parties would benefit if the Army were to conduct a thorough vapor intrusion investigation prior to TCAAP property transfer. It might show that the risk from vapor intrusion is acceptably low, but it might also show that it is low in some areas and high in others. That information should shape plans for carving up the property, and particularly the placement of housing and other sensitive uses. It would also make it possible to update remediation strategies - possibly applying innovative technologies that speed up contaminant removal or destruction - before new construction takes place. And it would also help determine what mitigation should be built into new buildings.

Conceivably, the presence of residual contamination would also require the imposition of institutional controls, including long-term monitoring and contingency plans. While these could be added later in the process, most developers prefer to know such requirements in advance - so they can weigh the value of upfront investments in cleanup or mitigation.

It may be that the Army can negotiate a deal with Arden Hills or the property developers, in which the transferees take responsibility for cleanup or mitigation in exchange for a discounts on the sale price. That might be OK, but only if the extent of the problem is first identified.

Lenny Siegel

Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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