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From the Vault: News from the Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 edition of the Press & Journal

Posted 1/30/18

Officials: Arsenic in soil not a threat

Elevated levels of arsenic have been found in soil at the Highspire Waste Water Treatment Plant, slowing the pace of upgrading the plant to meet tougher …

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From the Vault: News from the Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 edition of the Press & Journal


Officials: Arsenic in soil not a threat

Elevated levels of arsenic have been found in soil at the Highspire Waste Water Treatment Plant, slowing the pace of upgrading the plant to meet tougher environmental standards and adding as much as $700,000 more to the cost, officials said.

Arsenic, a naturally occurring substance linked to cancer, was found at levels ranging from 14 to 83 parts per billion, said Chris Foreman, an engineer with Rettew Associates, project manager. The site average was 38 ppb, he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s threshold for arsenic is 43 ppb, he said.

“There is no danger to the public and workers are taking the necessary safety requirements,” Foreman said.

According to the National Ground Water Association, arsenic occurs naturally in rocks, soils, and waters. It is odorless and tasteless. Exposure to arsenic at high levels has been linked to cancer.

The contamination of arsenic was found throughout the site at depths ranging from 18 inches to 6 feet, Foreman said. To reduce exposure to the toxin, 3-5 truckloads of rock are delivered to the site each day to cover the site, Foreman said.

Highspire Authority will apply for grants through DEP to help offset the additional cost, Foreman said.

What happens to the contaminated soil will depend on the size of the grant that the authority receives, said Foreman.

Removing the contaminated soil is costing the authority about $35,000 a month, he said. The costs include supplying workers with disposable Tyvek suits, a safety shower, clean rooms for changing, and digging equipment, officials said.

The black-stained contaminated soil could remain on-site at a cost of $700,000, said Von Hess, president of the borough authority. Removing it to a special dump site would cost about $3 million.

The authority, which borrowed an extra $600,000 for other sewer projects, will not put those plans on hold and use the money to offset the cost of the contamination, Hess told borough council on Jan. 13.

The plant serves 1,425 homes and businesses in Highspire Borough and Lower Swatara Twp.

To meeting federal pollution standards, the authority is installing phased oxidation ditches, a pump station, two primary clarifiers, an additional final clarifier, new sludge pumps, and a control building.

The project is estimated to cost $10.4 million, less a $5 million state grant that the Authority received.

The balance of the expense will be paid by Lower Swatara Twp., which is responsible for 64 percent of the cost, officials said.

“It [the contamination] caught us all by surprise,” said Foreman, adding the cleanup has slowed progress on the renovations. “We haven’t stopped work, we just changed how we do things.”

The biggest part of the project was the concrete pouring process, said Hess.

Middletown school taxes to rise 10 percent

Faced with a $300,000 deficit, the Middletown Area School Board proposed a preliminary general fund budget for the 2010-11 school year that would raise real estate taxes by 10.15 percent.

District Finance Director David Franklin blamed the deficit largely on an increase in pension contributions, but noted the budget is a work in progress and could change.

This time last year the district faced a 7.4 percent tax hike, but was able to eliminate expenses to avoid it, he said.

Under the proposal outlined Monday night, the real estate millage would increase from 19.94 to 21.96 mills.

At that millage, a resident with a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $2,196 in property tax per year, an increase of $202.

The main reason for the increase is a pension crisis facing all school districts in Pennsylvania caused by an increase in employer contributions, Franklin said.

The Public School Employees Retirement System voted to increase the employer contribution to the system for the 2010-11 school year to 8.22 percent, a 72 percent increase over the 2009-10 rate, according to the district.

The employer contribution rate is projected to increase sharply in the next four years, reaching a peak of 33.60 percent in the 2014-15 school year, Franklin said.

The projected increases in employer contribution would cost MASD and its taxpayers an additional $14,434,657 beginning with the 2010-11 school year through the 2014-15 school year, even with no increase in salaries, officials said.

Long, costly outage sets up TMI for 2034

The Unit 1 nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island returned to service early Sunday, ending one of the longest, and apparently costliest, refueling outages in recent memory.

The plant shut down Oct. 26 after setting a 705-day continuous operation world record for a pressurized water reactor, and remained off line for some 90 days, about three times longer than normal, TMI spokesman Ralph DeSantis said.

This outage was unique, however. Along with routine maintenance and refueling — about a third of the plant’s nuclear fuel was replaced — Exelon workers installed two steam generators at a cost of more than $300 million.

“Things went well,” DeSantis said.

Exelon brought in about 3,000 extra employees, nearly twice the normal amount, to help with work.

Despite the generators’ massive size, weighing nearly 500 tons apiece; and the number of workers involved, there were no serious injuries, he said.

There was a radiation leak, however, that exposed some 20 workers to low levels of radiation on Nov. 21. The incident, attributed to a change in air flow that pulled radiation out of the old steam generator as it was being removed, disrupted activity inside the reactor building for about a day, but had no significant impact on the project, officials said.

In addition to the generators, Exelon spent $25 million to replace the wooden frame at the base of the two Unit 1 cooling towers with a composite material that will require less maintenance and allow the plant to do more cooling with less water.

Headlines from the edition

• Haiti’s plight touches hearts

• Car dealer to be tried for fraud

• County recycling center will take bulky waste

• Boys basketball: Middletown buzzer beater stuns Falcons

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