EPA Releases Latest Five-year Report on Marathon Battery Site

Technical in nature, report says site suitable for housing

By Michael Turton

On June 25, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its fourth, five-year review report on the current status of one of Cold Spring’s most talked about properties – the Marathon Battery site located on Kemble Avenue. While the site is a very peaceful looking grassy field today, its history is not nearly as pleasant – and its future is yet to be determined. The Village of Cold Spring received the new EPA report under Correspondence at its July 9 meeting.

Outline of a toxic past

A battery factory operated on the site from 1952 to 1979. Ownership changed several times and it was the now infamous Marathon Battery Co. that operated the facility from 1969 until it closed in 1979. In the years prior to 1965, the plant’s waste water treatment system discharged effluent into the Hudson River at the Cold Spring dock through the village sewer system. Whenever the system was overloaded or shut down, waste water was discharged directly into East Foundry Cove.

When the New York State Department of Health determined that the new sewage treatment plant being designed for Cold Spring could not handle the battery plant’s industrial discharge, plant operators constructed a waste water treatment plant and began channeling the treated discharge into East Foundry Cove. Unfortunately for the environment, the treatment plant was not very effective. In the early 1970s, high levels of heavy metals such as cadmium, zinc, nickel, and cobalt, were found both inside and outside the plant facility and in Foundry Cove. High concentrations of trichloroethylene (TCE) were also detected in ground water in and around the factory site.

Dredging was used in 1972 to remove cadmium-laced material from the marsh. The toxic material was stored in an excavated, clay-lined vault on the Marathon site. Despite the dredging, studies conducted in 1976 still found high levels of cadmium in fish, muskrats, turtles, green herons and marsh vegetation in the area. Cadmium and trichloroethylene are both known carcinogens.

Massive cleanup

From 1993-95, the EPA led a major federal Superfund cleanup of the affected area including the battery factory lands, Foundry Cove, Constitution Marsh and the Hudson River near the Cold Spring dock. Treated soil and sediment totaling 189,265 tons was transported off-site via a special spur rail line constructed especially for the project.

Until just a few years ago, a large wooden structure used in loading the trains remained on the foundry site. The waste, which filled nearly 2,000 rail cars, was shipped to a landfill in Michigan. Another 906 tons of hazardous materials were taken to a landfill in Model City, N.Y. On its website, Stevenson Environmental Services Inc., prime contractor on the project, lists the value of its 1993 contract to undertake the removal of materials, wetland restoration and related work as $41,081,804.

What about future use?

Remediation of contaminants that remained on the site even after the Superfund cleanup has continued over the past 20 years and the EPA is required to issue a progress report every five years. The latest report and its findings are not exactly light, bedtime reading. For the average person, wading through the 21 pages of technical terms, scientific acronyms and bureaucratic jargon – plus charts and graphs – to accurately decipher what the report means, would require an interpreter of considerable technical knowledge.

Marathon site

The former Marathon Battery site has a bucolic appearance now - but a toxic past.
Photo by M. Turton

But on the streets of Cold Spring, the most common questions are not technical at all. They’re basic. People simply want to know if the Marathon property is safe for human use – and if so, what those uses might be – at least in the eyes of the EPA. The section of the report dealing with “current and future land use” makes that fairly, if not crystal clear. The report states that “residential cleanup objectives were used to remediate the site” – meaning the goal of the cleanup all along has been to make the property safe enough to accommodate housing. It further states that “…a future residential scenario could be supported.”

What might be sobering to some is that such a conclusion is reached because, “contaminated sediments and soils have been dredged/excavated and disposed of off-site and institutional controls are in place to preclude use of contaminated groundwater for potable purposes and prevention of excavation of greater than 15 feet…”

The report even delves slightly into local land use and political issues. It comments, “The former factory grounds are currently zoned for light industrial use; however, the current owner has expressed interest in rezoning the property for residential use. If the property were rezoned the remedy (remediation) would still be protective.” In other words,  from an environmental perspective, residential use could be appropriate. Ken Kearney, owner of the nearly 12-acre Marathon property, has in the past proposed developing the site as a mix of residential, commercial and other uses.

Future use of East Foundry Cove, East Foundry Cove Marsh, and the the historic West Point Foundry site is less ambiguous since the properties are owned by Scenic Hudson which uses them for public recreation.

The human face of the Marathon legacy

Bob and Doreen Ferris have lived on Constitution Drive since 2001. In 2009, nine homes on the street were tested by the EPA. Elevated concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), including trichloroethylene, were found beneath the concrete slabs of two of the houses, including theirs. As a result their house is now equipped with a radon machine which draws the trichloroethylene out from under the concrete slab and transports it via a pipe to the roof where it is released. When exposed to the sun, VOC’s dissipate. The EPA also installed a well in their front yard which is used to test for groundwater contamination.

Bob Ferris has been outspoken in his criticism of how the remediation at Marathon has been handled over the years. “We knew about the cadmium issue when we moved in here. But we had no idea about the trichloroethylene. Our compensation was nothing,” he said. “They (EPA) weren’t even going to pay for the electricity for the radon machine. ” They were eventually compensated for those electrical costs.

When it comes to his view regarding the Marathon site being used for housing, Ferris leaves no room for interpretation. “Housing there? No. Put in a park or parking for the village.” He feels local officials should be doing more. “I wish the village would care about it a little more. It’s their problem as much as anyone’s. It’s sad because it’s such a nice street.” He also laments the affect that Marathon has had on his property’s value. “My house is worth nothing.”

Possible meeting to present report findings

The EPA is required to notify local residents of the findings of the latest report and to direct residents to where they can view the full report locally. Reports are also posted on the EPA website. Doreen Ferris received her copy of the report via email from the EPA the day after it was released. At the July 9 Cold Spring village board meeting, Mayor Ralph Falloon said that if residents felt there was a need, the village would support having the EPA present its latest findings at a public meeting. Asked if he thinks such a meeting is warranted, Bob Ferris responded, “Absolutely.”

Pamela Tames, Remedial Project Manager with the EPA, said that she has attended meetings in Cold Spring in the past and would be willing to do so again to present the results of the latest five-year report.

The report states that the annual cost of monitoring the Marathon site totals $81,000.

2 thoughts on “EPA Releases Latest Five-year Report on Marathon Battery Site

  1. I’m pleased to see some hard news in this posting — the EPA report and the county antiques fee. The softer material is also worthwhile, but the hard news is primary to me.