History of Legacy Toxic Sites

There has been a decades-long effort to achieve meaningful clean-up of the 6 toxic legacy sites, and a number of studies have been done -- including an assessment of PCB and PAH contaminated sediment in the river. Unfortunately, although the problems at these sites are well studied, little meaningful cleanup has happened as of 2012.

Recent Progress

Fortunately, the US EPA under President Obama has taken an interest in addressing these sites, after years of local officials asking for federal involvement. On February 25, 2010, US EPA presented to the Anacostia Watershed Steering Committee a summary document on six toxic sites along the Anacostia. After this presentation, District government expressed concern about the toxic cleanup issue being raised publicly while US EPA and District government were involved in ongoing discussions. At this point, Anacostia River advocacy groups determined to get involved in the toxics issue so that some community perspective was included while US EPA and District government were working behind closed doors.

Throughout the summer of 2010, the Anacostia Watershed Steering Committee continued to press US EPA and District government about the status of the toxics cleanup. The Toxics Team met with stakeholders and engaged in focused advocacy during this time period. On August 16, 2010, US EPA sent a letter to the Anacostia Watershed Steering Committee outlining expectations for remediation of three of the toxic sites.

In this letter, signed by US EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin, EPA explained that cleanup frameworks were in place at three of the six toxic sites. The letter continued that "EPA is working with DDOE to ensure that work is progressing in a transparent manner that provides for appropriate public participation under legally enforceable instruments at the three remaining sites: Kenilworth Landfill, Washington Gas Light and PEPCO Benning Road." The letter goes on to say that "If measures to comprehensively address these sites in a transparent and legally enforceable manner are not in effect by mid-December 2010, EPA intends to address these sites using appropriate Federal authorities." The implied threat is addition of the sites the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).

District government has consistently opposed Superfund listing for these sites, citing the length of the process, lack of local control, and the "stigma" of designating a Superfund site. The Toxics Team disagrees with these premises. The Superfund process can sometimes be lengthy, but the steps are known and they will continue to grind on to conclusion. Further, the Superfund process would provide federal resources and expertise and, most importantly, a clear process with opportunities for public input. Voluntary agreements of the type proposed by District government are prone to bogging down. One need look no further for an example than the Washington Navy Yard, one of the six known toxic sites along the Anacostia River and the only one of the sites on the Superfund National Priorities List. This cleanup is the furthest along and also has the most nearby redevelopment. Meanwhile, the District government and the National Park Service have had an agreement in place since 2008 regarding the assessment of toxics on the Poplar Point site. We are now well into 2012 and the District and National Park Service have not been able to agree on a way forward at Poplar Point. This is not the model advocates want to see at Kenilworth Landfill, Washington Gas Light, and PEPCO Benning Road.

Pepco Benning Road Cleanup Moves Forward

Early in February 2011 DDOE announced that a consent decree had been reached with PEPCO regarding the Benning Road plant. A notice was published in the DC Register announcing the agreement and providing for a public comment period lasting until March 7, 2011. One of the consistent concerns of Anacostia River advocates has been that DDOE build a robust public process to create meaningful community involvement. In March 2011 the Toxics Team met with DDOE and shared our concerns with the Pepco consent decree, including in particular the lack of public outreach and the lack of a public meeting in the affected communities. At that time DDOE indicated that it would hold a public meeting, in the community, before Memorial Day. This meeting never happened. The Toxics Team organized two public meetings of our own to advise the public about the issue, and we are building alliances with community members to keep them informed of our work and to engage them directly with their concerns.

AWS filed formal comments on the Pepco consent decree in accordance with the March 2011 DC Register deadline. These comments included several serious concerns with the legality of the consent decree and again highlighted the issue of public engagement. The legal shortcomings in the consent decree were so serious that eventually AWS, Anacostia Riverkeeper, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a legal motion to intervene in the consent decree lawsuit between DDOE and Pepco. Essentially, DC and Pepco are having a conversation about how to clean up the Benning Road site, and the motion to intervene represents our attempt to become part of that conversation in order to represent the public interest. In December 2011 the judge in the Pepco case denied our motion to intervene, but we did win on two of our major concerns: 1) the judge’s order required DDOE and Pepco to report back in 18months with the expectation that the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) would be completed by that time (moving the process along quickly), and 2) all major documents produced during the RI/FS process will be put out for public comment. AWS and its partners will be working with the community to ensure that people’s voices are heard as part of the cleanup process.

In August 2012 Pepco and DDOE convened the first meeting of the “Community Advisory Group,” made up of representatives from community organizations, civic associations, and agencies, to engage key community stakeholders in the Pepco clean-up efforts. Attendance by community members was modest and CAG members present pressed DDOE and Pepco to make additional efforts to ensure adequate participation in the CAG.

Several key documents are open for comment until September 17, 2012 – the Sampling & Analysis Plan, the Work Plan, and the Healthy & Safety Plan. AWS is analyzing these documents and plans to provide a summary sheet to help community members engage with these highly technical documents and offer comments before the deadline.

Pepco’s contractor hopes to conduct field work on the site and the Anacostia River in Fall 2012 so that lab work can be conducted over the winter, with a goal of producing a draft clean-up by May 2013 (to comply with the deadline issued by the judge). Stay tuned here and to the below websites for updates as the situation develops:

Progress at Washington Gas Light Site

In August 2011 AWS and Anacostia Riverkeeper filed suit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to compel cleanup of the former Washington Gas Light coal gasification site along Water Street SE, east of 12th Street SE. DDOE had been negotiating with Washington Gas since at least Gall 2010 but we felt it necessary to take legal action of our own in the hopes of keeping the process moving. This site is located near a major recreational area informally known as Boathouse Row, where hundreds of citizens spend time at four yacht clubs and a major rowing facility.

On December 12, 2011, the District Department of Environment (DDOE) announced, along with its federal partners, the entry of their draft consent decree regarding clean up of the Washington Gas toxic site along the Anacostia River. Beginning in the late 1800s, Washington Gas and Light Company operated a gas manufacturing facility at the "East Station" site on the banks of the Anacostia River near 12th and M Streets SE. Closed in the mid-1980s, the site has never been completely cleaned up despite a 2006 Record of Decision (PDF) concerning lands along the river.

While we are still awaiting a ruling on that lawsuit, entry of this draft consent decree will impact the legal posture of our case. Our foremost concerns are that there be a robust public process to include affected citizens and that the clean up be sufficient to ensure the health and safety of the river and the people who enjoy it.


Map of Washington Gas cleanup site, courtesy of National Park Service
Cleanup will occur in segment along the river.

In February 2012 AWS and Anacostia Riverkeeper submitted formal comments on the draft consent decree for the Washington Gas site. We subsequently met with DDOE and federal attorneys to press our points. As of August 2012 we are just getting word of an amended consent decree being issued that responds to at least some of our concerns. This is a brand new development so stay tuned for more information.

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