Westinghouse Electric Corp., Sharon transformer, Superfund site

Westinghouse Electric Corp., Sharon transformer, Superfund site, Sharon, Mercer County, Pennsylvania was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 30, 1990. The NPL is a list of national priorities among the known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants throughout the United States and its territories.

The NPL is part of the Superfund program, the common name for the United States environmental policy officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), enacted by the United States Congress on December 11, 1980 in response to the Love Canal and Times Beach disasters. Superfund law was created to protect people, families, communities and others from heavily contaminated toxic waste sites that have been abandoned. Many of the contaminants at Superfund sites are also regulated under the Resource Conservation and  Stanfrod University.Aerial photograph of Westinghouse Electric Corp. Sharon plant. Source: Stanfrod University.Recovery Act (RCRA).


Background

Westinghouse Electric Corp. Sharon (WECS), a former transformer manufacturing facility occupied a 58 acre site in the city of Sharon, Pennsylvania for more than 60 years between 1922 and 1984. The former plant is situated in an area of heavy industry which has historically included residential, commercial, institutional, recreational, rail and industrial areas. The site is also within the Shenango River Valley, which is a source of drinking water for Sharon and is used for boating and fishing. The former transformer plant is now used by a steel company for steel galvanizing, and for industrial steel warehousing.

Westinghouse’s Sharon plant mainly produced distribution transformers, power transformers, and related electrical equipment until it closed in 1984. Westinghouse Electric Corp. (WEC) was founded by the pioneering engineer George  Britannica.com.George Westinghouse engineer and founder of Westinghouse Electric Corp. Source: Britannica.com.Westinghouse in 1886 and was a leader in the development of electric power and the company continues to be a major power in the worldwide nuclear industry. WEC has since been bought by CBS Corporation, and this inturn has been acquired by Viacom, Inc.

Transformers are components which transfer electrical energy between circuits through electrical conductors, they are filled with cooling and insulating fluids. At WECS most transformers were filled with highly refined mineral oil, though two percent were filled with either a silicone fluid or a commercially-produced dielectric fluid called ‘Inerteen’. Inerteen is the Westinghouse trade name for a chlorinated hydrocarbon fluid, which was non-flammable and contained either undiluted polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or a mixture of PCBs and trichlorobenzene. The conducting fluid enabled transformers to be put out of action before arcing occurs (high voltage jump channels). 'Inerteen' was favored over oil which presented a danger of catching alight during arcing. Westinghouse used Inerteen for 40 years between 1936 and 1976, before the EPA proposed regulations to ban the manufacture of PCBs due to their negative effects on the global and local environment as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). On-site surface and underground tanks were used to store Inerteen. Other chemicals were also used at the site to manufacture transformers which included the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) trichloroethylene (TCE) and l,l,l-trichloroethane for metal cleaning and degreasing. Waste liquids from this were piped to the site’s neutralization facility for treatment.


Contamination

During routine operation over the years contamination of various media has occurred within and beyond site boundaries. Leakages and spills caused pollution of soils, drainage basins to the surface water of Shenago River and groundwater downgradient of the plant. When Interteen was banned, Westinghouse decontaminated, removed and scrapped the Inerteen storage and distribution system, removing and incinerating some 48,000 gallons of PCBs and 15,000 gallons of organic solvents. However, there still remained contamination at levels which were a potential threat to public health, consequently the site was proposed for listing on the EPA’s NPL list in June 1988.

Contamination at Westinghouse, Sharon plant
Groundwater Surfacewater Soils
PCBs, VOCs including TCE, chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated benzenes. PCBs PCBs, arsenic, manganese, PAHs.

PCBs have been of particular concern to health as they are potential carcinogens which can cause bioaccumulation in the fatty tissue of fish, mammals and people and can have harmful impacts on peoples’ immune systems, neurological development and reproductive systems.

 Silver Eagle Industries.A Westinghouse transformer. Source: Silver Eagle Industries.
Remedial action

After Westinghouse stopped using Inerteen, the company carried out voluntary clean-up action which involved cleaning surface areas of site buildings, above and below ground storage tanks and pits.

Following listing on the NPL, initial remedial action focused upon the removal of liquid non-aqueous phase liquids (LNAPLs), liquids which are lighter than water so float on the surface, from groundwater underneath the tank farm. In excess of $30 million dollars has been spent on cleaning up contamination from the former WECS facility, Viacom, Inc. has been held responsible to foot this bill.

Groundwater:

  • Groundwater clean-up from January 2004
  • Actual clean-up was not requires as it was ‘technically impracticable’ .
  • Monitoring wells to ensure long-term evaluation of contamination levels.
  • Monitoring groundwater twice per year.

Surface Water:

  • Removal of PCB-contaminated sediment in Shenango River with water treatment plant, stabilization pad.
  • Cordoning off portions of the River using sheet pilings, floatation barges.
  • November 2005 all PCB-contaminated sediment had been removed.

Soils:

  • Characterize surface and sub-surface soils.
  • Excavation of soils containing PCBs, lead & arsenic above maximum concentration levels.
  • Treatment of  toxic soils.
  • Offsite disposal of excavated or treated soils.
  • Backfill or pave excavated areas.

 

Sources

 

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