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EPA Reaches Major Milestone at Welsbach Superfund Site

Release Date: 07/26/2010
Contact Information: Beth Totman (212) 637-3662, totman.elizabeth@epa.gov

(New York, NY) With the help of millions of dollars in Recovery Act funding, an important milestone was reached today in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cleanup of the expansive Welsbach Superfund site in Camden, New Jersey. Walter Mugdan, Superfund Director of EPA Region 2, Congressman Robert E. Andrews, Camden Mayor Dana Redd, and Heart of Camden’s Executive Director Helene Pierson, were on hand today to mark the demolition of a large building adjacent to the former General Gas Mantle facility in Camden. The building must be demolished to allow EPA to clean up radiologically contaminated soil underneath. Commercial tenants of the building have been relocated to another space in Camden with EPA’s assistance.

In spring 2009, EPA received $28 million in Recovery Act funds for the ongoing cleanup of the Welsbach site. Much of that money is being used to clean up radiologically contaminated soil around the former General Gas Mantle facility in Camden, a community designated for special focus as a Brownfields Showcase Community. The cleanup of the General Gas Mantle property and the adjacent property will serve as a catalyst for redevelopment of the area and more than 60 jobs have been created as a result of the stimulus-funded work.

“The Recovery Act gave EPA the ability to accelerate the cleanup of the General Gas Mantle property and we are now ready to take down the last obstacle to finishing the soil cleanup at the adjacent site,” said Walter Mugdan. “The demolition begun today is of critical importance to cleaning up and allowing this site to be put to productive use for the betterment of this community.”

At the turn of the 20th century, Camden and Gloucester City were the center of incandescent gas mantle manufacturing in the United States. The Welsbach Company and the General Gas Mantle Company were involved in the production of gas mantles from the late 1890s to 1941. The companies used thorium, a radioactive element, to coat each cloth mantle to make gas lamps glow brighter. Thorium emits alpha, beta, and gamma radiation during its radioactive decay, and has a half life of 14 billion years. Anyone who is directly exposed to this radiation, or inadvertently ingests radioactive particles may suffer adverse health effects in the form of an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

When the two New Jersey companies went out of business in the early-1940s, they left a legacy of soil contaminated by thorium and other radioactive materials. Since 1941, the ownership of the properties has changed hands. New businesses moved in to take over the land and buildings. The former Welsbach facility is now an active port area along the Delaware River.

In the early 1990s, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) conducted an investigation for radiological contamination of more than 1,100 properties in Camden and Gloucester City. NJDEP took measures that included placing gamma radiation shielding on 30 properties and installing radon/thoron ventilating systems on three properties. EPA listed the site as a Superfund site in 1996, and began an extensive investigation to determine the nature of contamination throughout the site and the risks posed by the site.

EPA has been cleaning up the many areas that comprise the Welsbach Superfund site in Camden and Gloucester City since 2000. Properties at which EPA has completed cleanup activities include the Essex Street residential properties/Gloucester City Swim Club, Temple Avenue along Newton Creek, the 500 Block Section of Division Street, and numerous residential properties, including those along Highland Boulevard and Klemm Avenue. In 2001, EPA completed demolition of the former General Gas Mantle building in Camden. Of the $28 million in Recovery Act funds dedicated solely to the Welsbach Superfund site cleanup, six million dollars has been used for further investigations into the scope of the contamination around Camden and Gloucester City, and $22 million has gone towards the removal of radiologically contaminated soil in Camden. Today, EPA began to demolish the former Dynamic Blending building and as of today’s demolition, 32,000 cubic yards have been removed from Camden and over 60% of the $22 million has been spent.

EPA believes the cleanup of the General Gas Mantle property and the adjacent Dynamic Blending property will help kick start redevelopment of the area. By increasing the speed with which these sites are returned to productive use, it can offer significant economic benefits to local communities including future job creation.

President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on February 17, 2009 and has directed that the Recovery Act be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability. To that end, the American people can see how every dollar is being invested at http://www.recovery.gov.

For more information on this and other sites funded through ARRA, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region02/eparecovery. For more information about the Welsbach and General Gas Mantle site, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/welsbach.
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