Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

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The Mercury Refining, Inc. site is located on the border of the towns of Guilderland and Colonie, New York. From 1955 to 1998, Mercury Refining Company, Inc. (MERECO) used

retorts (specialized ovens to distill and recover mercury) to reclaim mercury from mercury batteries and other mercury-bearing materials such as thermometers, fluorescent bulbs, spill debris and dental amalgams. The recovered mercury was then refined and marketed. MERECO also collected and brokered silver powders and small quantities of other precious metals. Before 1980, waste contaminated with mercury was dumped over an embankment of a tributary of Patroon Creek. From 1980 to 1998, waste batteries and other mercury-containing materials were stored in drums on wooden pallets on paved areas prior to disposal.


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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

Initial sampling by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) in 1981 and 1982 indicated the presence of PCBs and mercury contamination in soils on the southern edge of the site property and on the embankment of the Patroon Creek tributary. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List in September 1983.

Under a September 1985 Consent Decree with New York State, MERECO excavated and removed approximately 2,100 cubic yards (cy) of mercury-contaminated soils and debris, and 300 cy of PCB-contaminated soils. The excavated area was backfilled with clean soil and covered with a clay cap. Additional contaminated soil was found on another portion of the property and was left in place after being sealed with plastic sheeting. This area was subsequently covered with a concrete cap. In June 1989, MERECO entered into an Administrative Order on Consent with NYSDEC to identify and clean up mercury-contaminated areas both on and off of the MERECO property. In November 1999, after unsuccessful efforts to have MERECO fully comply with the investigation and cleanup of the site, NYSDEC requested that EPA take over as lead agency.

EPA initiated a remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) in September 2000. The primary objective of a RI/FS is to determine the nature and extent of contamination, identify potential threats and evaluate options for cleaning up a site. Based on the results of the 2003 RI Report, the 2008 FS Report, and an April 2008 public meeting, a final cleanup plan (Record of Decision) was selected on September 30, 2008 which called for, among other things, the excavation and off-site disposal of mercury-contaminated soils above the water table with mercury concentrations above 5.7 parts per million (ppm), in-situ (in-place) solidification/stabilization (ISS) of mercury-contaminated soils below the water table in areas where the groundwater contained dissolved mercury concentrations above 0.7 parts per billion (ppb), removal and disposal of mercury-contaminated sediments exceeding 1.3 ppm, imposition of institutional controls and a site management plan, and a minimum of five years of ecological monitoring.

The EPA approved the Remedial Design Report for the cleanup in September 2013. Soil and sediment excavation and disposal began on October 1, 2013 and was completed on December 30, 2013. This effort resulted in the removal and off-site disposal of 5,588 tons of non-hazardous soil and sediment and 173 tons of hazardous soil. Excavated areas were backfilled with clean soil and restored to their original surface cover condition (i.e. paved or reseeded). ISS work began on June 12, 2014 and was completed on October 31, 2014. Pre-excavation of the ISS area resulted in the removal and off-site disposal of an additional 2,618 tons of non-hazardous soil. The in-situ solidification/stabilization portion of the cleanup involved the use of an auger system to blend columns of soil within the in-situ solidification/stabilization area with a mixture of Portland cement and a sulfur-containing compound. A total of 235 overlapping, six-foot diameter columns were installed and extended into a clay layer underlying the Site.

Cleanup at the site was completed in 2014. Long-term groundwater and ecological monitoring is ongoing.

Cleanup activities at the site have removed contaminated soil and sediments that could pose a risk to current site workers and the environment. Quarterly groundwater monitoring and annual ecological (surface water, sediment, and fish tissue) monitoring are underway to ensure the continued performance of the implemented cleanup remedy. Institutional controls, in the form of an environmental easement, are being developed to: restrict the site to industrial use, preserve the existing clay and pavement caps, preserve the ISS area, control any future excavation of soil or building demolition, and restrict the use of groundwater. A site management plan has also been created to ensure that future activities at the site (i.e. building demolition, soil excavation, etc.) do not adversely affect the implemented cleanup remedy.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

Cleanup at the site was completed in October 2014. Currently, long-term quarterly groundwater monitoring and annual ecological monitoring are underway to ensure that the implemented cleanup remedy continues to perform as expected. Institutional controls are being developed to restrict the site to industrial use, prevent use of groundwater for drinking water, etc. in accordance with the ROD. The first five-year review of the site is currently underway.

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Enforcement Information

Between 2005 and 2016, EPA entered into a total of 13 settlements with 418 potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at the site, which include all of the viable and locatable PRPs.  Specifically, EPA entered into one ability to pay settlement with the owner and operator of the site, seven de minimis settlements with a total of 317 de minimis parties, two settlements in bankruptcy with two de minimis parties, a settlement agreement and order on consent for the performance of the remedial design (RD) with seven major parties, a unilateral administrative order for performance of the RD with two major parties, and a remedial action judicial consent decree with nine major parties, 19 federal agencies and departments, 42 de minimis parties, and the owner/operator. Through these settlements, EPA recovered over $6.5 million of EPA’s response costs and certain future response costs, and secured performance of the work. 

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