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O'Donovan Armed Forces Reserve Center Environmental Investigation

Fact Sheet, February 2013

Summary

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) received a report (dated December 2012) in January which DEC subsequently shared with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), for an investigation that was carried out by the U.S. Army. This report showed elevated levels of a chemical called PCE (also known as perchloroethylene, tetrachloroethene, tetrachloroethylene, or PERC) in the groundwater at the fence line between the O'Donovan Armed Forces Reserve Center and the Albany High School. In response to these findings and as a precautionary measure, DEC, in conjunction with NYSDOH, collected air samples from inside and beneath Albany High School on February 21 to determine whether PCE could also be measured inside the High School. This sampling focused on the potential of chemical contamination (volatile organic compounds) to move from subsurface areas such as soil or groundwater (where there is limited exposure to the public) into indoor air of overlying buildings, a process known as soil vapor intrusion. The preliminary results of the state's air quality tests, which were received on Saturday, February 23, indicated that the contamination is not present in the indoor air of the school and, based upon this information, there is no reason to change any planned activities at the school. Validation of the preliminary results is underway and expected to take one to two weeks. Once DEC and NYSDOH complete their review of the validated data, the agencies will transmit the results of the analyses and the agencies' assessment of the results to the school. An area map (PDF) (1.45 MB) is available.

Background

The U.S. Army is conducting an environmental investigation of the James J. O'Donovan Armed Forces Reserve Center (AFRC). The AFRC is located in the City of Albany on a 3.5-acre parcel near the corner of North Main Avenue and Washington Avenue adjacent to Albany High School. The property was developed as a reserve center in 1955. The AFRC is still open, but is in the process of being closed. The Army plans to surplus the property in the future, and has conducted a number of environmental investigations and removal activities. The attached figure shows the location of the site and the adjacent Albany High School.

Findings of the Investigation

The U.S. Army's environmental investigation found PCE in groundwater at levels exceeding 2,000 parts per billion (ppb) at the fence line that separates the AFRC from the Albany High School property. This level exceeds the New York State groundwater standard and drinking water standard of 5 ppb for PCE. The fence line is approximately 290 feet from the school building.

Possible Health Concerns

Although PCE has been found in groundwater near the federal site, there is no drinking water threat as the community uses municipal water. The purpose of the current sampling was to evaluate whether PCE had entered the school by a process known as "soil vapor intrusion," which could have affected the school's indoor air quality and whether there would have been a related health concern.

The term "soil vapor intrusion" (or SVI) refers to the process by which volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in soil or groundwater may move into soil vapor (air spaces within the soil), which in turn may move into overlying buildings and affect the indoor air quality. Please see the fact sheet on soil vapor intrusion from the NYS Health Department via the link in the right-hand column of this webpage for further information.

As described previously, sampling of air within and beneath the school has been done to determine if soil vapor intrusion is occurring at the high school, and if so, whether any PCE in indoor air is at levels of health concern. The preliminary results of the state's air quality tests, which were received on Saturday, February 23, indicated that the contamination is not present in the indoor air of the school and, based upon this information, there is no reason to change any planned activities at the school. Validation of the preliminary results is underway and expected to take one to two weeks. Once DEC and NYSDOH complete their review of the validated data, the agencies will transmit the results of the analyses and the agencies' assessment of the results to the school.

PCE in Air

PCE is a manufactured chemical that is widely used in the dry-cleaning of fabrics, including clothes. It is also used for degreasing metal parts and in manufacturing other chemicals. PCE is found in consumer products, including some paint and spot removers, water repellents, brake and wood cleaners, glues, and suede protectors. Because it is so widely used, finding low levels of PCE in outdoor and indoor air is not uncommon. These low levels are referred to as "background levels."

People may be at increased risk for adverse health effects if they are exposed to high levels (levels much higher than background) of PCE in the air they breathe for a long period of time. Nonetheless, NYSDOH recommends that levels be kept as close to background as possible to minimize the potential for adverse health effects from PCE in air.

Next Steps

The preliminary results of this sampling do not show a problem with chemical contamination in the school's air. Validation of the preliminary results is underway and expected to take one to two weeks. Once DEC and NYSDOH complete their review of the validated data, the agencies will transmit the results of the analyses and the agencies' assessment of the results to the school.

With respect to nearby residential properties, DEC and EPA met with the Department of Defense (DOD), which is the owner of the federal facility, on Monday, February 25 about sampling to fully characterize the AFRC site and the surrounding area. DOD has plans to investigate whether contaminated groundwater is moving through the ground and if so, in what direction. Additional sampling outside the AFRC facility to determine whether soil gas may be present along Washington and North Main Avenues was also discussed with DOD. Based on the groundwater and soil gas results DEC and DOH will inform DOD whether indoor air samples in homes and businesses are needed. If sampling is needed, representatives of DOD will contact affected homeowners.

DOD will be the lead on all future cleanup efforts with respect to this contamination. DEC and DOH, along with EPA, will work closely with DOD to expedite the necessary investigation. Any questions related to possible health issues may be directed to DOH at 518-402-7800 or 800-458-1158 or, for remediation information, to the EPA at 212-637-3660 or the DEC at 518-402-9706.

Additional information regarding this effort is available at the DEC Website and the DOH website.


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