June 9-22, 2000
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U.Va. looks at former landfill

By Louise Dudley

The University has received preliminary approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate two former disposal sites for University debris on the south side of Observatory Hill.

The investigation, expected to begin this summer, will be one of the first in the region under EPA's new "facility lead agreement" program. Under the program, a site's owner commits to performing the study and any necessary cleanup to both the EPA's and the state's satisfaction.

The University landfill, which covers about three acres, partially fills a ravine below the McCormick Observatory. The sites were used from the 1930s until about 1983 by various University departments, operating under waste disposal laws and practices of the time.

The data gathered will help officials determine whether the landfill poses any risks and, if so, how they should be addressed.

"Based on our records, we expect the vast majority of the material in the landfill to be demolition rubble, such as brick, concrete, plaster, steel and other building materials," said Ralph O. Allen, director of environmental health and safety at U.Va. "There may be landscaping debris and possibly some hospital trash that was buried instead of incinerated.

"Because the sites were essentially unmonitored during most of that period, questions have been raised as to what materials may have made their way there. The purpose of this investigation is to remove that uncertainty and to deal with any problems that we may discover."

Preliminary investigations by U.Va. last year led University officials to pursue the more thorough analysis, he said. For example, some surface water samples showed signs that fires may have been set in the area some time ago.

EPA is currently reviewing U.Va.'s work plan for the investigation, which is expected to take at least a year, once it begins in late June or July. It will include exploratory trenches, soil sampling, and surface- and groundwater sampling over 12 months to detect any seasonal patterns.

The data gathered will help officials determine whether the landfill poses any risks and, if so, how they should be addressed.

As part of the plan, the University must specify how it will assure the quality of the study, compliance with EPA's environmental indicators within the stated time frame and public participation.

Allen said the University is currently seeking proposals from environmental engineering consultants to conduct the testing and analysis.


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