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Pool Doctor – Beaver Alkali Products Site

Site Facts

Municipality: Borough of Rochester, Beaver County

HSCA Site Since: 2019

Primary Contaminants of Concern: DEP is aware of significant amounts of chlorine and other chemicals associated with a pool chemical business. The full inventory of chemicals onsite is unknown, as neither DEP nor its contractors have been able to access all parts of the site. Many drums and containers of chemicals are compromised, unmarked or mislabeled.

Background

DEP first became aware of the Pool Doctor – Beaver Alkali Products site in Rochester, Beaver County many years ago when staff were overseeing remediation of an adjacent property, the former Marino Scrapyard. At that time, the owner claimed that the business was still operating. Because the site did not operate under any DEP permits and it was not clear if a public or environmental threat existed, DEP’s ability to compel the owner to take action was limited.

In approximately 2016, DEP received an anonymous complaint which prompted an investigation and visit to the site. DEP also reached out to the property owner seeking information but received no response.

DEP identified the current property owner as Harold B. Davidson (son of previous owner, Harold W. Davidson) and mortgage holder as M. Ultra Investment Group, Ltd. and tried to contact Davidson on several occasions seeking information but either received no response or insufficient information. DEP visited the site again to document the status of the situation and attempt to discuss the concerns with the property owner. No contact could be made with Mr. Davidson. After multiple months with no contact from the owner, DEP was able to hold a meeting with the mortgagee partners of the site in June 2018.

After the meeting, DEP’s Hazardous Site Cleanup program began completing the paperwork necessary to conduct a cleanup at the site. By March 2019, access to the site was obtained through Harold B. Davidson and DEP had begun discussing the project with the assigned contractor Michael Baker International.

The site consists of many drums of unknown liquids and solids that are corroded and leaking. These drums were associated with chemical businesses and a laboratory that operated out of the buildings located on the property. When DEP initiated its response, the buildings were in a state of dilapidation and disrepair. The roofs of the two buildings where the drums are located were collapsing. The roof of the larger building was already partially collapsed. The smaller storage building almost completely collapsed the week of June 24, 2019. The collapsed roofs allow rain and snow to enter the buildings causing release of the waste materials into the surrounding soils and, potentially, the Ohio River.

DEP determined a threat to human health and the environment existed from the ongoing release of materials and risk to persons entering the building. On July 1, DEP initiated a prompt interim response under HSCA for the site.

DEP Authority

DEP does not have regulatory oversight of the commercial or industrial handling, use, or storage of chlorine or other potentially hazardous chemicals unless they are stored and handled in a manner that causes pollution. DEP does not issue permits for, or have oversight of, retail pool chemical businesses, public or private swimming pools, or other stores that sell pool chemicals, for example. DEP may evaluate the storage and handling of chemicals at sites DEP oversees, such as drinking water treatment facilities, during regular inspections. The Clean Streams Law, Solid Waste Management Act, and Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) prohibit the storage and handling of hazardous substances and solid wastes in a manner that causes pollution. DEP would inspect a facility for dangerous conditions if the facility operates under a DEP permit, or if a complaint were filed.

Upon closing a facility, under the Clean Streams Law, Solid Waste Management Act, and HSCA, the hazardous materials should be handled in a manner that would not cause a nuisance or pollution. DEP would inspect if there is a permit or complaint. Chemicals that have been abandoned constitute a “solid waste” and must be stored and disposed of in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Act.

There are other laws, regulations, and requirements for reporting to local, state, and federal agencies, but these are outside of DEP’s oversight.

DEP understands and shares the community’s concerns about this site and took proper steps within its authority. Ultimately, it is incumbent upon the property/business owner/operator to properly handle and dispose of chemicals on their property. The property owner has agreed to restrict all public access to the buildings that also house a bowling alley. DEP retains the right to pursue any site owners or responsible parties for all costs incurred by DEP during its response.

July 1, 2019 Prompt Interim Response under HSCA

DEP was pursuing the site under HSCA, but the most recent building collapse demonstrated a more urgent threat. DEP determined the threat to human health, safety, and the environment warranted a prompt interim response and began work at the site on July 1, 2019.

DEP considered two options to address threats at the site:

  1. No action, or
  2. Remove and properly dispose of the chemicals existing at the site.

DEP chose option number two because it complies with the applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements.

The original plan was for the buildings storing the chemicals to be demolished or otherwise made safe for entry. The chemicals within the buildings were to be sampled and categorized for proper waste disposal. All chemicals and containers would be disposed of at a DEP-approved facility. Once all the chemicals had been removed and disposed of, DEP would return the site to pre-existing conditions to the extent practical, leaving it in a safe and acceptable condition.

DEP originally allocated $375,000 to collect, categorize, and properly dispose of miscellaneous chemical wastes at the dilapidated facility. However, the events of July 12, 2019, necessitated the expansion of the project’s scope including but not limited to DEP’s emergency response and building demolition. DEP does not have a revised project estimate at this time but expects the cost to exceed $1 million.

DEP staff and contractors were working at an incredibly challenging site due to the structural instability of the buildings and the quantity of unmarked, mislabeled or improperly stored chemicals.

Administrative Record

The administrative record which contains the information that forms the basis and documents the selection of this response action is available for public review and comment. The administrative record is linked below in digital form and located in hard copy at DEP’s Southwest Regional Office, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 and is available for review Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM.

Administrative Record Docket

Administrative Record

Public Participation

Public Comment Period on Administrative Record:

The administrative record will be open for comment on Friday, October 18, 2019. Persons may submit written comments into the record during this time only, by sending them to Terry Goodwald, Project Officer, c/o Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Southwest Regional Office, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or by delivering them to this office in person.

Public Meeting and Hearing:

DEP held a public hearing to receive oral comments for inclusion in the administrative record on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 at the Rochester Borough Municipal Building located at 350 Adams Street, Rochester, PA 15074.

DEP provided an information sheet on the project and a presentation that included photos from the site. 

Information Sheet (PDF)

Presentation (PDF)

Public Notice:

DEP published notice of its prompt interim response under HSCA at the Pool Doctor – Beaver County Alkali Products site in the July 20, 2019 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin. This included information on DEP’s hearing.

Notice of Prompt Interim Response (begins on page 3803)

An identical notice was published in the legal notices section of the Beaver County Times on July 19, 2019.

On August 28, 2019, DEP issued a press release on Secretary Patrick McDonnell’s visit to the site along with a hearing reminder.

Press Release

July 12, 2019 Incident

DEP and its contractors began working at the site on July 1, 2019. An exothermic chemical reaction occurred within one of the buildings between 9 and 10 PM on Friday, July 12, 2019 causing a fire and fumes to be released into the air. Another reaction and release occurred the following morning. Materials were not being actively removed from the building or prepared for disposal at that time, and the reaction and subsequent fire appear to have started from a reaction within an inaccessible portion of the smaller building that almost completely collapsed on June 24, 2019.

DEP, its contractors, multiple fire departments, and Beaver County HAZMAT responded. Local emergency response agencies oversaw the extinguishing of the fire and issued a five-mile temporary shelter-in-place order as a precaution. Another reaction and release the following day prompted a temporary one-mile shelter-in-place order.

Following this incident, DEP consulted with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and requested information on potential health effects. If you are having difficulty breathing, please call 911 for immediate assistance. If you are concerned about your personal health concerning this exposure event, please contact your primary care doctor. If you have any questions about the impact of this event on public health, please contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health at env.health.concern@pa.gov.

Additional information on chlorine and bromine can be found online:

Next Steps

As of September 3, 2019, DEP’s contractors had removed, neutralized, and disposed of most of the chemicals and debris from the building that ignited. The building was demolished to enable complete removal of the chemicals stored within. The footprint of the building has been filled and graded to eliminate physical hazards.

DEP awaits a structural survey prior to beginning work on the larger building, which also has a collapsed roof, contains additional chemicals and a laboratory. Public access to the site remains restricted while work continues.

More Information on the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) Program

Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program page

2018 HSCA Annual Report