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DEP says tests prove ash levels not harmful

July 02, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

UPTON, Pa. - Tests on the Philadelphia incinerator ash being dumped at a Franklin County, Pa., landfill show that it contains less than one-tenth of the hazardous level for several heavy metals, a state environmental chemist said Monday.

Some activists and media reports have suggested that the ash could be dangerous or toxic. However, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection officials insist that tests show the ash to be safe.

Between 2,200 tons and 3,000 tons are expected to be dumped at the Mountain View Reclamation Landfill near Upton, Pa., over the next several weeks.

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The ash, which was generated in Philadelphia, spent 16 years on a barge, during which several states and countries refused to accept it. The barge has been docked on Florida's Atlantic coast the last two years.

Finally, the Pennsylvania DEP agreed to take the ash back if it tested OK.

The first two loads - a total of about 40 tons - were brought to the landfill Thursday as about 20 media representatives watched.

John Spang, an environmental chemist for the Pennsylvania DEP, said Monday that the ash is considered a municipal waste known as "special handling waste."

As such, it is tested for lead and cadmium - which, Span said, have the highest potential danger - plus six other metals: arsenic, barium, chromium, mercury, selenium and silver.

Spang said the cutoff for cadmium to be considered hazardous is one milligram per liter, the equivalent of one part per million.

For lead, the threshold is five milligrams per liter.

The Pennsylvania DEP sent representatives to Florida to test the ash May 29. Spang said tests were performed on 12 samples, from one end of the barge to the other.

In all 12 tests, the amount of lead and cadmium failed to reach the detection level, which is one-tenth of the hazard level.

In other words, the lead level was less than 0.5 milligrams per liter and the cadmium level was less than 0.1 milligrams per liter.

Spang said the exact amount is not recorded if the amount is below detection level.

"There is lead present, like in all municipal incinerator ash, but we checked to see it's not leachable," he said. "Lead is everywhere out there."

The amounts of the other six heavy metals also failed to reach detection levels in all 12 tests, Spang said.

The thresholds for the other metals, all in milligrams per liter, are: 5 for arsenic, 100 for barium, 5 for chromium (hexavalent), 0.2 for mercury, 1 for selenium and 5 for silver.

He said the Pennsylvania DEP also tested for 14 metals that are considered less dangerous, including antimony, copper, nickel, aluminum, molybdenum and zinc.

Spang said it's natural for those other metals to be present - even above the detection level - but they were not at a hazardous level.

Lee Zimmerman, the community relations coordinator for Mountain View Reclamation Landfill, said two loads of ash were dumped at the landfill Thursday, eight on Friday, two on Saturday and eight on Monday.

The loads ranged from about 14.2 tons to about 20.7 tons.

By a rough estimate, about 350 tons of ash have been dumped so far.

The ash arrives daily by train in Hagerstown from Florida.

Assuming eight loads of ash are dumped each day, the project will continue through most of July, Zimmerman said.

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