Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

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The General Motors (Central Foundry Division) site is located in Massena, New York. The cleanup of the GM site is ongoing and is being addressed in stages: immediate actions, which included the installation of a cap on the Industrial Landfill at the site in the late 1980’s to prevent the surface flow of contaminants and reduce potential air exposure from contaminants, and  long-term cleanup phases focusing on the cleanup of St. Lawrence and Raquette River system sediments; excavation and removal of contaminated on-site soils; removal of contaminated soil and sediment on St. Regis Mohawk Tribal properties (including Turtle Cove); and treatment of contaminated groundwater.

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What Is Being Done to Clean Up the Site?

Immediate Actions: GM, with EPA's oversight, placed a cap on the Industrial Landfill in 1987 to prevent the migration of contaminants.

River Sediments, Lagoons, Soils and Groundwater: The remedy selected by EPA in the site’s December 1990 Record of Decision, or ROD, includes dredging and excavating contaminated materials, followed by on-site treatment and disposal of residual contamination and groundwater extraction and treatment. EPA later updated the remedy to allow for off-site disposal, rather than on-site treatment of certain remediation wastes.

GM completed dredging of PCB-contaminated St. Lawrence River sediments in the fall of 1995. Since cleanup goals were not reached in all targeted areas, a multilayer cap was placed over those sediments. The dredged sediments were shipped by rail to a hazardous waste disposal facility.

From July 2000 through August 2004, remediation of the two inactive lagoons took place. Contaminated sludges and soils surrounding a 1.5-million gallon lagoon and a 350,000-gallon lagoon were dug up, stabilized and shipped to an off-site disposal facility.

In August 2002, GM began remediating riverbank soils and sediments. This work finished in September 2003, with GM successfully meeting the cleanup goals of 10 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) PCBs for soils and 1 mg/kg PCBs for sediments.
In the fall of 2003, GM completed the removal of contaminated soils at the toe of the slope of the Industrial Landfill.

In October 2004, GM began cleaning up Turtle Cove. Remediation included the dredging of the cove and the excavation of contaminated soils on the adjacent tribal property. These areas were subject to the tribal remediation standards of 0.1 mg/kg PCBs for sediments and 1 mg/kg PCBs for soils. This work finished in March 2005. The cleanup of the soils on another tribal property took place in the summer of 2007. One remaining tribal property cannot be remediated until the property owners provide access to it.

Design of the site’s groundwater remedy is currently underway.

Industrial Landfill and East Disposal Area: The remedy selected by EPA in the site’s 1992 ROD includes excavating highly contaminated materials from the East Disposal Area, followed by on-site treatment and disposal of residual contamination, capping the Industrial Landfill and less contaminated materials in the East Disposal Area, and groundwater containment. GM began the engineering design of this remedy in the summer of 1992. Design plans were not completed due to strong public opposition to the containment remedy. EPA updated the site remedy in March 1999 to allow for off-site disposal rather than treatment of these materials. EPA updated the site remedy in April 2000 allowing for the off-site disposal of certain materials after on-site treatment via stabilization, rather than thermal desorption.

While considerable progress has been made in remediating the site, several significant areas still require remediation. EPA and GM were working cooperatively to further work at the site when GM filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2009. Upon emerging from bankruptcy protection a short time later, GM changed its name to Motors Liquidation Corporation (MLC).
Sampling in 2008, 2009 and 2010 found elevated concentrations of PCBs in and on interior building surfaces. Contamination was also found in tunnels and soils located beneath the main production floor level at the plant. Under a Unilateral Administrative Order, MLC began and RACER completed the demolition of the buildings and addressed the contaminated soils and materials. The demolition, excavation of sub-slab soils and off-site disposal effort was performed from 2011-2014.

The remediation of the North Disposal Area, which included the demolition of aeration basins, waste water treatment buildings and Butler Building, and excavation of the contaminated soils underlying these buildings, was completed in 2014. The excavation of the East Disposal Area was completed in early 2015. During the 2015 season, activities included the creation of a 150-foot landfill setback – a waste-free buffer zone along the Tribal border and the St. Lawrence River. Work also began on the replacement of the multi-layered engineered cap on the Industrial Landfill. Remaining activities will include the installation of a permanent groundwater treatment system, completion of the Industrial Landfill cap, and dredging of a 10 million gallon lagoon. Additional work will include removal of contaminated soils and sediments from an off-site Tribal property. Cleanup work is expected to be completed in 2017.

EPA has conducted three five-year reviews at the site. These reviews ensure that the remedies put in place protect public health and the environment, and function as intended by site decision documents. Both reviews concluded that response actions at the site are in accordance with the remedy selected by EPA and that the remedy continues to be protective of human health and the environment in the short term. The remedy will be protective in the long term once remaining remedial measures called for in the RODs are put in place. EPA will complete another five-year review in 2020.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

From 1988 to 2005, GM completed a number of significant cleanups, including the dredging of the St. Lawrence River, Raquette River and Turtle Cove, groundwater collection at the base of the landfill and the development of a system to collect and treat potentially contaminated water running off the site before discharge to the St. Lawrence River. 

With the bankruptcy of GM in 2011, the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust was formed and assumed ownership of the site. Since that time, the pace of cleanup has quickened. RACER has successfully performed the demolition of the former on-site manufacturing buildings, as well as removal of the contaminated soil from underneath the buildings and the removal of soil in and around the industrial waste water treatment lagoons. In total, more than a half million tons of PCB-contaminated materials have been removed from the site since RACER Trust assumed ownership. 

In 2015, cleanup work included creation of a 150-foot landfill setback – a waste-free buffer zone along the Tribal border and the St. Lawrence River. Work also began on the replacement of the multi-layered engineered cap on the Industrial Landfill and East Disposal Area. Future work at the site includes installation of a permanent groundwater treatment system, completion of the Industrial Landfill/East Disposal Area cap, cleanup of a 10-million gallon lagoon and removal of contaminated soil and sediment from a Tribal property. All of this work is expected to be completed by 2017.

While it is anticipated that the GM site will be remediated by 2017, approximately 25 acres on or near the landfill will be restricted for development indefinitely and are suitable for “open space.” The RACER Trust is actively marketing the property for re-use/redevelopment.

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EPA’s Involvement at the Site

The EPA added the GM site to the Superfund National Priorities List in 1984. The 217-acre site was originally built to produce aluminum cylinder heads for the Chevrolet Corvair. The facility operated as an aluminum die-casting plant from 1959 to May 2009. Until 1980, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were a component of hydraulic fluids used in die-casting machines at the facility.

While in operation, various industrial wastes were generated and disposed of on-site. Contamination is located in two disposal areas (the North Disposal Area and the East Disposal Area), an Industrial Landfill and four industrial lagoons. PCBs have been found in the groundwater, on- and off-site soil and sediment in the St. Lawrence and Raquette Rivers, Turtle Cove and Turtle Creek. Groundwater was also found to be contaminated with volatile organic compounds and phenols have been detected in lagoon sludge, as well as in the disposal areas. Public water supply systems have not been impacted.

The site is bordered by the St. Lawrence River to the north, the St. Regis Mohawk Nation to the east, the Raquette River to the south and property owned by Alcoa and CSX to the west.

The cleanup work is being conducted by the current owner of the site, the RACER Trust, which was created through the GM bankruptcy in 2011. The cleanup work is overseen by representatives of the EPA, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) Environmental Division and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

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