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Closure in sight for decades-long bus garage cleanup

During a recent school board meeting, Director of Facilities William Brackett provided an update regarding environmental cleanup as a result of various leakage issues at the bus garage located at Emaus Avenue and Gaskill Street in Eastern Salisbury.

The Press followed up with Brackett to provide a complete picture of the situation that started back in the late 1990s.

According to Brackett, in 1998, crews onsite removing underground storage that held gas and diesel detected an obvious leakage. The issue was reported, which turned into an investigation involving the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and various other agencies. This process examined the exact nature and content of the leak, as well as the extent of the damage to the surrounding environment.

To obtain this information, multiple wells were dug on the property for soil testing to ascertain the size and reach of contaminants. A determination was made at this point the leak had been ongoing and an adequate clean-up plan was devised, which included the creation of additional wells.

In the early 2000s, crews injected enzymes into the ground to mitigate the contamination, which was not successful at decreasing chemical levels in the soil. Brackett came on to the project around 2007, and in 2008 he presented to the board at the time options for how to move forward with the site.

One option would be to close the project as “site specific,” meaning the ground would remain always slightly contaminated and this would be a required citation on the deed whenever a sale of the property took place.

The second option was to attempt ground cleanup with a different type of enzyme that had a better proven track record. The board at that time found a great deal of value in having the ground as clean as possible and opted to try another round of enzymes.

The project was designated as a Superfund site, meaning it was an area polluted with hazardous materials that would require long-term cleanup efforts. This designation provided funding from the United States government up to $1 million. Clean up costs exceeding that amount would need to be drawn from taxpayers.

Over several years of additional enzyme treatments, the decrease in pollution levels became stagnant and in 2014 an improper fuel delivery incident at the garage leached additional chemicals into the soil. At this point, a full reevaluation of approach was necessary, as they found the established testing wells on the property created a threat of additional exposure to contamination.

In 2016, the issue was re-addressed with the school board, as the district was closing in on the $1 million cap in government funding for cleanup.

In this presentation to the board, they agreed to cease clean-up efforts at the garage and apply through the PADEP to have the project labeled a site-specific cleanup, allowing for the closure of wells on the property.

Recently, the district received PADEP approval for this next step.

So what happens now? According to Brackett, the book isn’t entirely closed on this years-long endeavor. The district is still required to monitor soil quality over the next several years, but between mother nature and the enzyme treatments applied before, he expects slight improvement.

To assuage community concern, the PADEP says the leakage into the soil does not pose an overall health hazard to citizens and testing sites downstream along Trout Creek have come up clean.

“We worked hand in hand with the PADEP every step of the way to make sure this is being done the right way,” Brackett said, adding, “they’ve been fantastic.”

PRESS PHOTO BY LARISSA NEMETH An update is provided regarding environmental cleanup as a result of various leakage issues into Trout Creek at the bus garage located at Emaus Avenue and Gaskill Street in Eastern Salisbury.