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Cleanup at old GE site, now home to Harding High, finished

September 7, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — The lead, arsenic and petroleum-based chemicals have been removed or buried.

Tests, according to a new mound of paperwork filed with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, have come back clean.

The 17.2 acres on Bond Street where the new Warren Harding High School sits, once considered a toxic brownfield, now meets residential standards, according to Amanda Killeen, an environmental analyst for DEEP.

“The school parcel is safe and clean,” said Killeen, who has worked on the project for 10 years. “I would absolutely send my kids there. The school grounds have been tested and remediated and constructed with the safety of the children and faculty in mind.”

For more than century, the land was an industrial site, first home to Remington Arms where military rifles were manufactured and then GE, where wire, cables, housewares and small appliances were made. GE eventually closed the operation and tore down the 13 interconnected, five-story buildings that stretched north from Boston Avenue.

An action plan for ridding the property of toxins — including lead, arsenic and petroleum-based chemicals — had been in the works for years and was approved by the state in 2015. Even so, some who fought hard to replace the deteriorating Harding High School remain unhappy with the decision to place the new school on the site.

“I am still deeply concerned about it,” Maria Pereira, a school board member and Harding alumni who strongly opposed the new school’s location. She was not on the board when the vote was taken.

Pereira said as she sat on the property during a ribbon-cutting ceremony late last month, she worried about the long-term impact of students still developing and staff members, some of childbearing age, who will spend careers on the property.

“You know they can never build a garden on the property,” Pereira noted.

Not a traditional one, perhaps, since an Environmental Land Use Restriction placed on the property specifies that disturbances of the soil are prohibited. Raised bed gardens in potting soil is acceptable, however, Killeen said.

The final testing occurred this spring and over the summer as the finishing touches were put on the $107 million school building that serves as a seal to some of the contaminants.

In addition, 1,462 tons of soil was removed and replaced with clean fill, officials said. What remained of the original dirt was capped by four feet of soil, paved parking lots, a 56,769 square-foot four-story school building and a 2,447 square foot field house. A liner was installed north of Stillman Pond to prevent runoff.

A Certification of Completion was signed and issued Aug. 16 by DEEP Commissioner Robert J. Klee, two weeks before the school opened to some 1,500 students.

“No future monitoring is needed,” said J. Carver Glezen, a vice president at Triton Environmental Inc., the firm that represented the city during the cleanup process. “All of the groundwater conditions on the school parcel were ultimately shown to comply with applicable cleanup standards and approved by DEEP.”

Although petroleum hydrocarbon contaminants were sporadically detected above acceptable levels in one or more compliance monitoring wells during quarterly checks, the levels dissipated over time except in one. That well, located outside the school parcel, has consistently failed.

Killeen said the pollutants showing up in the well were residual and not representative of the conditions at the school parcel.

“Well UST20-MW-2 will continue to be monitored for its associated release on the GE property,” Killeen said. “Groundwater flows toward Stillman Pond (and) away from the school and presents no potential risk to the school parcel.”

The environmental land use restrictions on the property called for a concrete slab foundation under the school that cannot be disturbed in any manner. Excavation is prohibited below paved surfaces and the building can also never be torn down.

The majority of utility lines at the site were place within the upper four feet of clean soil.

The cost of the clean up was shared, with GE in charge of the removal, and the city in charge of construction which served as part of the cap. The city closed on the property on Aug. 23, 2018.

Killeen said it is not uncommon for remediation projects to take decades to complete. In this one, she said, the city and GE met every deadline.

“It is incredibly gratifying to witness the transformation of a portion of the property where an old factory used to sit to the location of a brand new state-of-the-art high school,” Killeen said. “I think it is exciting. The progress of remediation at the remaining portion of the GE property is impressive. I am looking forward to seeing the entire property redeveloped and finalized as well.”