By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Toxic pollution apparently lingers under the Cold Spring dock, adding another dimension to an ongoing village debate about increasing use of the dock for commercial boating. A regional U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official confirmed Wednesday evening (Feb. 22) that despite a massive, 1993-95 Superfund operation to clean-up the mess created by the Marathon Battery Co. plant, the dock continues to harbor cadmium, at least in small quantities. “There is a limited amount of contaminated sediment under the dock between boulders” that complicated clean-up efforts nearly 20 years ago, Pamela Tames, a professional engineer with the N.Y. Remediation Branch of the EPA, wrote in an e-mail responding to queries from Philipstown.info. Project manager for the remediation, Tames explained that during the design phase of the effort, the EPA “determined that there are large boulders and a large discharge pipe beneath the dock, making that area inaccessible for dredge equipment” used to extricate the cadmium elsewhere. “Therefore we stabilized the deteriorated dock so it wouldn’t collapse during the dredging operation and we dredged around the dock and [river] down to Downey’s pier.”
During a Tuesday night (Feb. 22) Village Board forum, Ronald J. Gainer, a consulting engineer hired by the village, said he had discussed the matter with the EPA and understands that “the river bottom there contains very large boulders and only limited soil between those boulders. That posed no concern to the EPA,” which dredged the river around the pier, not under it, he said.
The battery plant and Superfund
According to a 2008 EPA Five-Year Review Report on the remediation, the EPA sought to remove 95 percent of the cadmium at the waterfront and met its goal. .For years, the battery plant used a pipe “for transfer of all process wastewater into the Cold Spring sewer system for discharge directly into the Hudson River at the Cold Spring pier,” the 2008 EPA stated. Beyond the pier, the EPA dredged out sediment a foot deep, “since,” as the 2008 EPA report noted, “most of the cadmium contamination was located in the top four inches” and digging out 12 inches “would achieve the 95 percent removal rate” deemed adequate.
“In the Hudson River,” after the work, “an average of 10 mg/kg [milligram/kilogram] cadmium remained, which was consistent with the Record of Decision [clean-up plan] requirement that at least one foot of sediment and 95 percent of the contamination be removed.”
“We removed thousands of pounds of cadmium contaminated sediment from around the pier and from the cove,” Tames explained. “We also performed post-remedial sampling after the dredging to make sure we got most of it.” The waterfront around the dock was one of three major components of the clean-up of the Marathon Battery Co. Superfund Site. Along with the pier sector, the EPA targeted Foundry Cove and the parcel along Kemble Avenue where the plant stood, ground still enclosed by a high chain-link fence. Originally constructed by and for the U.S. Army but later owned by private firms, the factory produced cadmium-nickel batteries from 1952 to 1979. As a by-product, it dumped toxic effluent into the river and cove. A State University of New York paper described the cove as “the most cadmium-polluted site in the world.”
The SUNY document, Environmental Clean-up and Restoration: Case Study — Foundry Cove in the Hudson River, N.Y., adapted from a longer text by Jeffrey Levinton and Josepha Kurdziel, said that cadmium “can impair kidney function even at relatively low concentrations. Higher cadmium accumulation in humans can potentially lead to other serious health risks, including bone deformities, cardiovascular and immune-system deficiencies, central nervous system disorders, and lung cancer.” In its 1989 clean-up plan, the EPA said that “ingested cadmium and nickel are not considered carcinogens,” and that ingesting blue crabs or sediment found at the waterfront “are of little concern because they have little probability of exceeding an acceptable intake. The fish [consumption] pathway remains as the critical exposure pathway for the area.”
Before Superfund work got underway, Tames wrote to Roger Chirico, then mayor of Cold Spring and now Philipstown Highway Department superintendent, announcing that the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers intended “to reinforce the Cold Spring pier with sheet piling “¦ to stabilize the pier and to protect it prior to dredging”¦ . The sheet piling will be permanent and will be installed in such a way that enhancements may be made by the village in the future.”
Old worries resurrected
The issue of the lingering cadmium arose on Feb. 8 at a public hearing on a proposed change in the village code to allow commercial boats to moor at the dock. Currently, the law only permits occasional visits and limits them to historic or educational vessels. At the hearing, former Trustee Gordon Robertson questioned the durability of the dock, “which is containing a lot of contaminants.” He referred to “the cabling inside, that stress, to hold the dock in, because of all the contaminated stuff inside. We need to protect it,” he urged.
“They put the sheet piling there to contain the contamination,” another resident, Peter Henderson, said at the same hearing. He cited a “need for bumpers to protect the sheet piling that’s containing the contamination beneath the dock.”
When the Village Board revisited the issue Feb. 22, resident Jan Thacher said that “we have some deterioration conditions” at the dock. Before the Superfund clean-up, he said, some cadmium “had gotten stuck on those large boulders. That’s why the dock was built the way it was built, to hold what was there, there — and to allow them to dredge as close as they could as successfully as they could to the dock.”
In a phone conversation Feb. 20, Chirico said the worst area of pollution was near the Cold Spring Boat Club pier, not the village pier. The EPA installed the sheeting to reinforce the village pier, he said. “The sheeting wasn’t put there to trap any cadmium.” But if it had to corral any pollution, it could do so, he said two days later, at Tuesday’s Village Board forum, where he described the sheeting as being one and one quarter inches thick. “If there’s anything there now,” in terms of cadmium, “it’s all encased in that sheeting and unless that sheeting is porous, it’s there forever,” he said. However, on both Feb. 20 and 22, he pointed out that cadmium had destroyed a 450-foot section of the concrete pipe that once conveyed the effluent to the waterfront.
Structural concerns versus pollution
Tames said in her e-mail that village concern about boats mooring at the dock should focus on structural integrity, not pollution. “An engineering analysis should be done to determine the maximum size vessel that can safely moor at the dock,” she wrote. “It is a structural issue, not a contamination issue.” She added that the cadmium would not eat through the dock structure and escape. “It does not behave like an acid,” she said.
Chirico on Feb. 22 suggested that water tests be conducted, but near the Boat Club pier. “Can we take a sample down there, or a sample of the bottom right now, just to see how good that clean-up was?” he asked. “I would like to know what is under there.” Both Chirico and his successor, former Mayor Anthony Phillips, also expressed doubts that mooring boats at the village dock would threaten it structurally. “I really don’t see a problem with tying-up anything” at the dock, Chirico said in the Feb. 20 phone conversation. “I really don’t see a problem with the construction.”
“If cadmium is under the dock, boats should have no effect,” Phillips stated in an e-mail Feb. 21. Phillips nonetheless voiced a few qualms. “The amount of removal in the river by the EPA is questionable,” he wrote. “My concern would be if the cadmium that destroyed the storm drainage piping under Main Street, that allowed it to find its way to the river, [remains] that may be a problem.”
The two former mayors each played a role in building the current dock while in office. With the help of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, after installation of the sheeting, “on my watch, we just put the dock back” the way it was originally, Chirico said Feb. 20. “As far as I know, the dock was put back in better condition than it was before.” He added that Phillips subsequently enhanced the pier, adding the paving and other current fixtures.
“The dock was constructed in one stage,” Phillips said. “It was designed by the Corps of Engineers and an architect was hired by Mayor Chirico for the landscape. I honored most of the design with some change.”