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EPA to Take Public Comment on the Welsbach/General Gas Mantle Contamination Site

Release Date: 05/26/2005
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For Release: Thursday, May 26, 2005

(#05064) NEW YORK -- After extensive study and assessment of potential risk, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that the wetlands, water bodies and sediments at the Welsbach/General Gas Mantle Contamination site (Welsbach site) do not pose a radiological threat to people or the environment, and do not require any cleanup. The conclusions of the study and assessment mean that no additional cleanup actions will be required for this phase of the site work. The Agency will take public comment on this proposed decision.

"Cleanup work on the site has been progressing well," said Acting EPA Regional Administrator Kathleen C. Callahan. "We looked at whether radiological contamination from the site had affected nearby bodies of water, wetlands and sediments, and what we found gives us confidence that the ongoing cleanup will protect people who live in the area and their environment."

The Welsbach site was listed on the National Priorities List of the nation's most hazardous waste sites in June 1996. In September 1997, EPA began a study to evaluate the nature and extent of the radiological contamination at a number of residential and industrial properties at the site. The results of this study led EPA to select a cleanup plan for the site, which includes demolishing the former General Gas Mantle Building, excavating radiologically contaminated soil and debris at the residential, commercial and industrial properties at the Welsbach site, and disposing of this material in a licensed off-site facility.

EPA has completed demolition of the General Gas Mantle Building, and has also cleaned up radiological contamination in the area around Arlington Street in Camden. Additionally, the Agency has removed about 70,000 tons of radiologically contaminated soil from the Gloucester City Swim Club and nearby properties, and is currently cleaning up another parcel of land in Gloucester City.

At the time EPA selected a cleanup approach for the site, the Agency also committed to examining potential impacts from the radiological contamination to nearby wetlands,water bodies and sediments. In April and May 2001, EPA performed a study that found that radionuclide concentrations in the sediments are similar to background levels generally found in the area. The information obtained from the 2001 study was used to perform an assessment of the risks to the public and the environment. The risk assessment shows that the radionuclide concentrations in the sediments do not adversely impact the environment or threaten public health.

The Welsbach Company and the General Gas Mantle Company produced gas mantles from the late 1890s to 1941, sometimes making as many as 250,000 a day. The gas mantles were once used to light gas lamps in homes, offices and streetlights. To make the gas lamps glow more brightly, the companies coated the gas mantles with radioactive thorium. Radiologically contaminated soil from the companies' facilities, as well as waste materials from their manufacturing processes, were subsequently used as fill in Gloucester City and Camden.

EPA will explain the proposed plan at a public meeting at 7:00 p.m. on June 8 at EPA's Welsbach Field Office located at the Old Broadway School, 130 North Broadway, Gloucester City. The public comment period began on May 24 and will end on June 23, 2005.