Salem factory site cleanup heads to finish

Workers recently began removing contaminated soil from the former Universal Steel & Trading Corp. property in Salem, the last stage in a multiyear effort by city, state, and federal officials to clean up the site and return it to productive use.

The removal of the soil, which is contaminated with PCBs and metals, follows the previous dismantling and removal of the two contaminated buildings that remained on the Bridge Street property after Universal Steel closed its operations at least a decade ago.

Once the soil remediation is complete – expected to be done by late spring — the city plans to use the site for temporary commuter parking during the MBTA project to build a new garage and make other improvements to the Salem station. When that project is completed, the city plans to seek proposals for the redevelopment of the 1.2-acre factory site.

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“We’re very pleased with where we are now,” said Lynn Duncan, the city’s director of planning and community development. “It’s great to see this project come to fruition.”

Begun in 2009, the cleanup is a collaborative undertaking by the city, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency. The approximately $2.5 million cost is being split among the agencies.

“It’s been an important project to the city for several years, and we’ve been working for several years, meeting with the various agencies involved to try and identify a path to remediation,” Duncan said. “It’s very challenging, but [Mayor Kimberley L. Driscoll] has been very persistent and we’ve been able to bring all the parties together.

“It’s a contaminated site, it’s at a key location in the corridor, the entrance to the downtown,” Duncan said of the property, which is located across the street from the train station.

She said the project has added urgency because of the interim parking it will provide for the MBTA development, which is expected to begin in late spring or early summer.

Universal Steel used the site to recycle and reclaim metal, to dismantle and process transformers, and store automotive batteries.

The site, at 297-305 Bridge St., has remained idle since the company closed.

Acting at the request of the city, the EPA in 2009 evaluated the contamination on the site, and detected polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as well as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead and metal contamination, according to the agency. PCBs are considered a probable carcinogen.

The discovery led to the formation of the multi-agency team, which worked to assess cleanup options and funding options.

The first stage of the cleanup consisted of the removal of hazardous substances from a former corrugated steel building in the rear of the property, demolition of that building and the installation of perimeter fencing. Workers also secured the other building on the site — a warehouse — removed hazardous waste and demolished the structure.

EPA contractors are now excavating the first foot of soil from the site and stockpiling it under plastic covers. From there, EPA and Department of Environmental Protection contractors will be trucking it to a hazardous waste facility. That work will be followed by the excavation of pockets of the site where the contamination extends 3 to 6 feet deep. That soil also will be stockpiled and then hauled to a hazardous waste facility. About 7,000 to 8,000 cubic yards of soil are expected to be removed. Salem took ownership of the property for non-payment of taxes last year.

The EPA has installed air monitoring stations around the perimeter of the site that will reveal any presence of contaminants in the dust and particles.

“Every possible measure has been taken by the EPA to make sure no contaminants are able to migrate off-site,” EPA spokeswoman Paual Haschig said by e-mail.

Duncan said the city’s goal is a commercial redevelopment of the site since it “is not likely to be cleaned up to residential standards.”

She said the city’s plan is to sell the property to whatever developer is chosen.

Already one firm, F.W. Webb Co., a plumbing and heating supply business that operates on an adjacent site, has expressed interest in purchasing the Universal site for expansion. according to Duncan.

At a public meeting the city held about the future of the site, residents expressed a desire that whatever is developed not have a negative impact on the neighborhood in terms of traffic or noise.

“We want to do a redevelopment that works for the neighborhood and the city,” Duncan said.