In 1996, a Hoboken, New Jersey resident watched silently as unidentified drops of liquid slowly dripped from the ceiling of the apartment on to a counter top in his/her home.
The recently revamped five-story brick building was located in a heavily populated, mostly residential section of Hoboken.
In the early to mid 1990's, the historic building, (which served as a former mercury vapor lamp and connector switch manufacturing facility for General Electric from 1910 to 1965), was converted into 16 residential apartments and artist studios. The project was permitted by the City of Hoboken.
The apartment's residents asked state health officials to investigate the drops. The health inspector found liquid mercury under the building's wooden floor boards and in the walls. Mercury vapor was detected in the air with monitors.
Additional tests revealed unacceptable levels of mercury contamination in children living in the area. The Army Corps of Engineers and EPA were called in.
The Corps assisted the EPA in evacuating and relocating the 16 families and 20 businesses that occupied the contaminated area. The Federal government purchased the property from the owners and all of the displaced residents and businesses were relocated to safe locations.
The building's windows were removed and the brick walls were inspected for mercury contamination. The brick was contaminated and the entire structure had to be removed. An air handling system was set up to filter out mercury vapors during remediation. Other measures included closing surrounding sidewalks, placing a fence around the contaminated area and installing air monitors to measure mercury vapor and dust in the neighborhood.
The concrete slab and subsurface piping was removed and mercury contaminated soils were excavated from the site.
"The Mercury contamination was overwhelming and truly a health hazard to anyone on or around it." said Neil Ravensbergen, project engineer for the remediation. "It's a shame to loose a piece of history, but it was a benefit to the overall environment."
Pure liquid mercury found on the site was recycled and mercury contaminated building material was disposed of at an approved hazardous waste landfill.
At the former GP industrial site, Port of Bellingham consultant studies recommend that residential occupancy be banned on the first floor of some of the proposed structures in certain areas.
The consulting firm also recommended that Mercury Vapor monitors be installed around structures, (after remediation and clean up), to monitor mercury vapors in and around buildings on the re-developed site.
I wonder, is this the kind of "clean up" and "re-development" our community is willing to live with?
What is the definition of an "acceptable" risk in regards to public health in Bellingham?
Hoboken website: http://www.hobokennj.org/index.html
USAC Engineers story about the building: http://www.hq.usace.army.mil/cepa/pubs/oct03/story13.htm