It’s been more than 30 years since the public first learned that the former Texas Eastern Transmission Corp. buried industrial fluids containing the carcinogen polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in pits along the natural gas line, including in Shermans Dale.
The sites could represent thousands of tons of contaminated soil. The PCBs still have not been fully cleaned up and there isn’t an estimate for when that will be completed.
“We have undertaken PCB remediation efforts at (the Shermans Dale) facility in accordance with applicable regulations and are committed to continuing efforts supporting the health and safety of the communities in which we live and work,” said Max Bergeron, a regional spokesperson for Enbridge, the Calgary-based owner of the Texas Eastern gas pipeline. This was the initial response in June to questions from the newspaper.
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Enbridge is supposed to conduct PCB cleanups as it makes updates to its facilities, such as the work that was done over the past couple years at the Shermans Dale compressor station in Carroll Twp. Companies that owned the Texas Eastern pipeline in the past were supposed to do the same but did not completely remove all the PCB-contaminated soil.
“Previously, PCB impacted soil was removed from other areas of the facility,” said John Repetz, a DEP spokesman, about Shermans Dale. “Some impacted soil remained because the facility is an active pump station and the soil could not be accessed at that time.”
For example, soil underneath pipes, buildings or compressors was inaccessible, the DEP and company said.
Extent of wastes
All total, 19 Texas Eastern sites across Pennsylvania still have confirmed PCB waste sites, according to DEP. Ten of the sites are in the south-central region including the Perulack site in Juniata County, Shermans Dale in Perry, and Grantville in Dauphin County.
The PCB lubricating fluids were dumped between 1978 and the early-1980s after Congress banned the use of PCBs for their cancer-causing properties and evidence that they could cause other health problems, such as harm to reproductive systems and other internal organs. The revelations about the dumping resulted in millions of dollars in fines and requirements to clean up the sites. Some sites were cleaned in the 1990s, according to the state.
A 2019 work plan filed by Enbridge for the Shermans Dale site calls for the excavation and removal of soil in an area that’s 10 feet by 10 feet to a maximum depth of about 23 feet deep, according to DEP. That’s an area of 85 cubic yards of soil. According to basic conversions, that amount of soil is roughly 119 tons depending on the composition and density. If similar amounts are present at the other 18 sites, it could be as much as 2,261 tons of contaminated soil throughout Pennsylvania that still needs to be cleaned up.
When the newspaper asked Bergeron about how much PCB soil was removed and how much cleanup was left to do along the Texas Eastern line in Pennsylvania, he did not specifically answer those questions.
The DEP Consent Order & Adjudication from 1991 requires Texas Eastern to clean up the sites, but neither DEP nor Enbridge could give a timeline other than to say the company would do it when areas become accessible.
The natural gas industry, and Texas Eastern specifically, have not used PCB lubricants in decades, Bergeron said. EPA regulations also require companies to use controls that prevent the release of residual PCBs in the pipeline system. Those are in use along the Texas Eastern line and at its connections with other systems, he said.
Why cleanup now?
The work being done over the past couple years at the Shermans Dale site was a modernization project that included more efficient turbines for the compressor station, according to the company and DEP.
The new compressor/turbines will reduce all nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 75 percent below regulatory limits, Enbridge’s Bergeron said.
The paperwork for the project filed with DEP says the new turbines will meet regulatory requirements for the release of nitrogen oxides, a broad category abbreviated as NOx for multiple greenhouse gasses and nitrogen-based air pollutants. As part of the upgrade, the project included PCB soil remediation, too.
“During project activities, minor PCB remediation efforts were necessary and conducted consistent with applicable regulations, along with management of any residual PCBs encountered,” Bergeron wrote in his email, noting on Aug. 31 that the work is complete at the Shermans Dale site.
Regulators will conduct sampling and review of the site cleanup activities, and a final report will be submitted to DEP, Repetz said.
According to news stories from the Perry County Times and the Patriot-News in 1991 – when state authorities leveled record fines against the gas line – Texas Eastern employees dumped PCB-laden lubricants into pits at 85 sites along the pipeline’s 10,000 miles between Texas and New Jersey from 1980 and 1984.
The Environmental Protection Agency became aware of the dumping in 1984 but didn’t pursue enforcement for more than two years. That was about the time media outlets such as the Washington Post began reporting on the dumping practices that Texas Eastern employees had admitted, according to the stories in multiple newspapers.
The state Department of Environmental Resources (precursor to DEP) began testing sites in Pennsylvania soon after, confirming widespread PCB presence and dumping at Texas Eastern properties. Texas Eastern Transmission, sometimes called TETCO, was fined $18 million by the state in a 1991 settlement. TETCO agreed to cover cleanup costs estimated at the time to be between $200 million and $400 million. The company also settled with the EPA around the same time, paying an additional $15 million fine.
Perry County residents and elected officials were livid with the company at the time, demanding more transparency, accountability and cleanup, according to news stories from the public meetings held in Shermans Dale. Not long after the PCB dumping news broke, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (which oversees energy projects and facilities) approved the expansion of key sections of the gas line. That attracted more negative attention because the company had not yet cleaned up the PCB dump sites.
PCBs are a class of chemicals added to lubricating fluids on industrial equipment. According to the DEP, PCBs are generally slow moving in undisturbed soils. But the dumping at Shermans Dale was significant enough that the former Texas Eastern company and its successors were required to monitor nearby groundwater for contaminations through wells beginning in June 1991. There was also surface migration of PCBs in the past, according to news stories.
Groundwater monitoring ended in 2014 after Spectra Energy – the company that owned Texas Eastern then – fulfilled requirements of the consent order, according to a letter from Kathleen Horvath, land recycling chief with DEP’s Environmental Cleanup & Brownfields Program, to the company in November that year.
The Shermans Dale compressor station and related land is 133 acres on both sides of Texas Eastern and Mt. Airy roads in Carroll Twp.
As part of settlements with nearby residents, Texas Eastern acquired former homes around the Shermans Dale site between 1993 and 2008 which allowed them to cleanup and monitor PCBs in the area. Texas Eastern acquired at least three residential properties.
The largest site at 53 acres is 780 Dellville Dam Road, a hilly property on either side of a tributary to Shermans Creek directly downstream from the compressor station. The property includes the gas line right-of-way down to the creek where it crosses underneath.
The property was acquired in 1993 for a listed $10, according to online records with Perry County GIS Mapping. The land was valued at $251,000 and a building at $13,600, according to the county. Most former buildings including a home were torn down in the past.
Two smaller properties were bought by Texas Eastern in October 2008, according to county records. The first, 350 Texas Eastern Road, is at the western side of the intersection with Mt. Airy Road. Its 2 acres was valued at $53,600. Texas Eastern paid $200,000 for it.
The company also acquired 355 Texas Eastern Road at that time, a 3.4-acre property valued at $70,100, according to county records. The company paid $260,000 for it. Buildings on the properties were demolished in the past.
Enbridge is remediating six of the 19 sites with confirmed PCBs this year, according to DEP. Aside from Shermans Dale, Perulack and Grantville, it also is working on the Bechtelsville and Bernville sites in Berks County, and the Holbrook site in Greene County.
Why we’re reporting
Not only is this the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Texas Eastern PCB settlement, but work on the natural gas pipeline has been ongoing in central Pennsylvania for several years. In addition to compressor upgrades, the company also expanded parts of the pipeline, including some Perry County sections.
Recent PCB remediation came to the attention of the newspaper when a resident asked about regulatory violations at the Shermans Dale facility. They found the alleged violations on EPA’s website, where the public can access records for regulated facilities around the country.
In 2020, an EPA website noted the Shermans Dale Texas Eastern site had three violations in less than a year, including what appeared to be effluent runoff and emissions violations. However, EPA found no violations in their records, and DEP said they were generated in error.
“We checked with our water and (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) enforcement staff and they are not aware of any direct EPA involvement with these events. They believe this was likely handled by the state,” EPA spokesman Roy Seneca said in a May email.
DEP’s Repetz said the incidents only appeared as violations because of a glitch in how data is uploaded to the EPA website. Sometimes if a large batch of data is uploaded, it can trigger paper violations in error. But the permit for Texas Eastern Shermands Dale under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) had no violations attached to it, he said.
“The records we have regionally and downtown don’t show violations,” Repetz said, referring to DEP’s records in Harrisburg.
Jim T. Ryan can be reached via email at [email protected]
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