Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

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The Atlantic Wood Industries (AWI) Site is approximately 50 acres of land on the industrialized waterfront of Portsmouth, Virginia, and over 30 acres of contaminated sediments in the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. This land is surrounded by the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and several other small industrial properties. From 1926 to 1992, a wood-treating facility operated at the site using both creosote and pentachlorophenol (PCP). The site was contaminated from the treatment operation, storage of treated wood and disposal of wastes.
At one time, the Navy leased part of the property from AWI and disposed of waste on site, including used abrasive blast media from the sand blasting of naval equipment resulting in contamination with heavy metals such as copper, lead, zinc and arsenic. The Navy also disposed of sludge from the production of acetylene in a wetland on the border of the Southgate Annex of the Shipyard and the AWI site.
Sediments in the Elizabeth River contain heavy metals and visible creosote. The groundwater and soil at the site are also contaminated with creosote and heavy metals.
Currently, AWI operates a pre-stressed concrete products manufacturing facility at the Site. The Site is about seven miles from the Chesapeake Bay. Approximately 14,000 people work within a half-mile radius of the Site. The drinking water supply within a three-mile radius is provided by public utilities. Groundwater in this area is not used as a drinking water source.
The AWI Site was added to the EPA's National Priorities List (NPL) of most hazardous waste sites in 1990.

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

Atlantic Wood Industries (AWI) completed an EPA-directed removal action (short-term cleanup) in 1995. AWI installed a liner in a storm sewer to prevent creosote from entering into the sewer and migrating to the river. AWI also excavated approximately 660 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the inlet.

EPA issued a Record of Decision (ROD) in 1995, describing how the agency was to address both contaminated soil and sediment from a wetlands area at the site. The ROD required that most of the soil and sediments be treated using bioremediation (inserting bacteria to break down contaminants).

Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), PCP, dioxins and metals contamination (mainly arsenic, chromium, copper, lead and zinc) have been detected in soils, groundwater, and sediments. Many of these contaminants have also been found in crabs and oysters near the site and stormwater runoff from the Site. The sediments in the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River contain creosote as a free product.

A risk assessment indicated that direct contact or accidental ingestion of contaminated soil is potentially harmful to on-site workers. For the Elizabeth River, Virginia has issued a “DO NOT EAT” advisory for blue crab's hepatopancreas, or yellow mustard. EPA recommends that pregnant women, women of child-bearing age, children and other sensitive people should limit their consumption of crabs to reduce their potential health risk. Virginia also issued fishing advisories for a number of fish in the Elizabeth River and has a ban on the consumption of oysters due to bacterial contamination. Most of the risk is from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin. The Site is not considered a source of PCBs. However, the Site likely contributed to the dioxin in the river.

Walking in the river near the banks of the Site could result in a skin burn due to the presence of visible creosote in the sediments.

During the design phase of the cleanup, new information was collected which indicated that the Site was more contaminated than previously thought. As a result, EPA determined that the cleanup called for in the 1995 ROD would not have been the most appropriate plan and decided to conduct an additional feasibility study that could take this new information into account.

In 2002, EPA, AWI and the Navy reached an agreement to undertake a removal action to cleanup acetylene sludge from an on-site wetland and to cap an abrasive blast media (ABM) disposal area. The sludge removal and the wetland restoration were completed in 2003. The ABM work has been put on hold in an effort to fold this work into the overall soil cleanup.

A ROD was signed in December 2007. This ROD addresses all of the site contamination in soil, sediments and groundwater and replaces the 1995 ROD.

During the summer and fall of 2008, EPA collected sediment samples to determine the extent of dredging, soil samples to determine if any excavation is required prior to capping the Atlantic Wood property with clean soil, and sediment samples to obtain physical property data used in the design of the sheet pile that will be used to build the containment system for the dredged sediment.

EPA also conducted a cultural resources survey to look for and document historical resources at the Site.

In 2012, FIGG Bridge completed the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge across the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. The bridge goes through the Site, and FIGG conducted a portion of the cleanup.

In 2013, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed a project to treat approximately 45,000 cubic yards of creosote and pentachlorophenol-contaminated soil in the southwestern portion of the Site. The work was performed in-situ, meaning that the contamination was treated while it was still in the ground. The USACE also finished constructing a large steel pile wall in 2013 that will contain the creosote and heavy metal contaminated sediments in the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and the contaminated sediments dredged from the river.

In 2013, EPA extended the Portsmouth storm sewer from Elm Avenue across the AWI facility to the river and constructed a groundwater collection trench.

In the fall of 2017, EPA completed dredging approximately 360,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. This was the largest phase of the approximately $100 million cleanup and addressed the worst area of contamination in the industrial river, which flows to the Chesapeake Bay. About 24 acres of the river were dredged. Most of the sediment was mixed with cement and some of the sediment/cement mixture was used to cover an additional seven acres of the most contaminated area of the river creating new land. The rest of the dredged sediment went to an area of the Site away from the river where a landfill is being constructed.

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What Is the Current Site Status?

EPA is implementing remedial actions at the Site, which are expected to be protective after completion and once institutional controls (ICs) are in-place.

Currently, EPA is capping contaminated sediments dredged from the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River in a landfill at the west side of the site.  Contaminated soil is also being capped at the Atlantic Metrocast facility. EPA expects this work to be complete in the fall of 2019.

The most recent, 2015 Five-Year Review (PDF), concluded that the remedy continues to be protective of human health and the environment in the short term. The next five-year review is scheduled for 2020. 

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Activity and Use Limitations

At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.

For more background, see Institutional Controls.

EPA will apply institutional controls to ensure the remedy is protective in both the short term and long term. Institutional controls will ensure, for example, that future construction does not adversely affect the remedy (for example, to avoid vapor intrusion), provide notice to new landowners to prevent inappropriate future land use, educate and warn the public against consumption of fish and shellfish from the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, and prevent use of groundwater for drinking purposes.


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Emergency Response and Removal

During construction activities, creosote contamination was discovered in a City sewer outside the area being cleaned up at that time. EPA conducted an emergency response and repaired the sewer line to prevent creosote contamination from entering the Elizabeth River.   

More information about this Removal Action can be found on the EPA's On-Scene Coordinator's (OSC) website.                           

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Enforcement Information

The United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia have entered into an agreement under which the EPA and Virginia will recover nearly $64 million to address cleanup costs at the Atlantic Wood Industries (AWI) Superfund Site in Portsmouth, VA.

In accordance with a consent decree (PDF) entered in federal court on April 30, 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of the Navy will pay EPA $55.3 million for cleanup costs, and pay Virginia $8.5 million for past costs and future activities Virginia will conduct at the site.

Along with cleanup costs, DoD and the Navy will fund a $1.5 million oyster restoration project to be implemented by Virginia in the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.  

The settlement also provides that Atlantic Wood Industries and Atlantic Metrocast, the AWI Site owners/operators, will reimburse EPA and Virginia $250,000 plus interest for site cleanup costs.

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