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Hazardous Waste Cleanup: Exide Technologies in Reading, Pennsylvania

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For many years Exide operated a lead smelter and recycled lead batteries.  As a result of 35 years of lead smelter operation prior to the installation of air pollution controls and the advent of the Clean Air Act of 1970, Exide contributed to lead emissions and releases that impacted the soils in the surrounding community and the conditions at the site.  Presently, most of its operations at the facility has shut down except for the plastic recycling business.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action investigation and remediation at the Exide facility is twofold.  It consists of the offsite soil investigation and cleanups and the multimedia onsite investigation to assess the impacts of Exide's past operations.

Cleanup Status

Offsite Soil Investigation and Cleanups:

Offsite Soil Sampling

In August 2000, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) to Exide to investigate the extent of lead contamination in soil in the community and to clean up properties that were adversely impacted by the lead emissions.  In 2001 and 2002, Exide sampled approximately 600 properties, which equate to approximately 12,500 soil samples collected in Laureldale Borough and Muhlenberg Township.

Site-Specific Risk Assessment

In the summer of 2002, Exide initiated a site-specific risk assessment to determine a soil lead level that is protective for the community.  The risk assessment evaluated lead exposure risks from various sources such as tap water, air, lead paint, soil, dust, and food.  The risk assessment consisted of an environmental sampling of residences and a community blood lead study.  The risk assessment targeted residences with children seven years old and younger, who are considered most susceptible to lead exposures.  In 2007, EPA approved the site-specific risk assessment and determined a protective soil lead level of 650 parts per million (ppm) for residential properties.  The applied cleanup level of 650 ppm ensures long term protection of the residents and the environment in Laureldale Borough and Muhlenberg Township.

Residential Soil Cleanups

Residential properties with soil lead levels of 650 ppm and less do not pose a health risk and did not require soil cleanup.  In 2008 and 2009, residential properties that contained soil lead levels greater than 650 ppm were cleaned up.  The cleanups consisted of soil excavation, backfilling with clean soil and restoring the property to its original condition.  Exide and its contactors worked with the property owners to ensure that the cleanups met the owners’ satisfaction.  Exide cleaned up a total of 220 properties.  The residential cleanups were completed in the Fall of 2009.

In addition to the individual residential properties, Exide completed the soil cleanup of the Sacred Heart Convent property in 2018 and the Rosedale Camp Ground in 2019.  

Bernhart Park Cleanup

Bernhart Park is a 37.6-acre community park located within a quarter mile of the Exide facility.  Historic operations at the facility contributed to lead concentrations in soil, surface water, and sediment at the park.  Exide worked extensively with the EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) and the City of Reading to evaluate the potential lead exposure risks to park visitors and to develop a cleanup workplan to address those risks.  The park was cleaned up and reopened in 2010.

Remaining Offsite Investigation and Cleanup

The Gethsemane Cemetery and approximately 10 undeveloped parcels (zoned residential) will require additional evaluation.  An updated human health risk assessment will be required for the Gethsemane Cemetery to evaluate employees and visitors’ potential exposures to lead in soil.  Presently, undeveloped parcels are vacant and do not pose a potentially unacceptable risk.   However, the change in use of the undeveloped parcel will require re-evaluation of the exposure risks for the intended use.

Onsite Investigation and Cleanups:

Under the EPA Corrective Action and Waste Minimization Permit (CAP), Exide completed a RCRA Facility Investigation (RFI) in 2018 to evaluate the nature and extent of potential releases of hazardous wastes or hazardous constituents from regulated units, solid waste management units, and other source areas at the facility.  The media of concern consists of groundwater, sediment and soils.  Based on the findings of the RFI, EPA is proposing, as the final remedy for the Facility, a combination of soil excavation and capping for onsite lead-contaminated areas, sediment remediation, ongoing groundwater monitoring, and implementation of land and groundwater use restrictions.  EPA’s proposed remedy is presented in the Statement of Basis document.  The document is available under the “Documents, Reports and Photographs” link located in the Site Description section of the webpage.

A public notice on the proposed remedy was published in the Reading Eagle Newspaper and on the EPA public notice webpage on June 9, 2020.   The 45-day comment period ended on 7/24/2020.  EPA received several comments on the proposed remedy and related issues regarding the offsite residential cleanups.  In addition, a public hearing was requested.  Prior to the written response to the commenters, EPA will hold a virtual public hearing (due to Covid 19 pandemic) later in the Fall after the completion of the Exide bankruptcy.  An announcement of the public hearing will be posted in the local newspaper and on the EPA website.  All commenters will also receive notice from EPA when the virtual public hearing is scheduled.

Exide Bankruptcy

In May 2020, Exide filed for bankruptcy to expedite the liquidation of their North America operations.  The bankruptcy will impact Exide’s environmental liabilities at the Reading facility.  EPA is working with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) to negotiate with Exide in the bankruptcy proceedings.  Once the settlement of the bankruptcy is finalized EPA will schedule the virtual public meeting to present the outcome of the proceedings and to discuss the impact to the environmental cleanups.

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Site Description

Interactive Map of Exide Technologies in Reading, Pennsylvania

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The Exide Technologies (Exide) facility is located in Laureldale Borough and Muhlenberg Township, just northeast of Reading, Pennsylvania and occupies approximately 50 acres. The facility began operation in the mid-1930s under the ownership of the Bower's Battery Company.  In 1960 the name was changed to the General Battery and Ceramic Corporation and was changed again in 1969 to General Battery Corporation.  In 1987, General Battery Corporation was acquired as a wholly owned subsidiary of Exide Corporation.  In May 2020, Exide filed for bankruptcy.   Exide will shut down facility by the end of September 2020.

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Contaminants at this Facility

 The major contaminants and risks are elevated levels of lead and specific heavy metals associated with Exide's past operations in soil, sediment and groundwater.

The primary tool used by EPA to estimate risk from soil contaminated with lead is called the Integrated Exposure Uptake Biokinetic (IEUBK) model. This model is used to estimate blood lead concentrations for children within a study area that are exposed to lead from multiple sources. In the Exide investigation, this exposure would include the lead in the soil due to smelter emissions. A blood lead study concluded that the overall blood lead levels for children in the area are safely below the CDC standard. In fact, the average blood lead levels in the Exide study area were nearly identical to the national average of 2.0 ug/dL.

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Institutional and Engineering Controls at this Facility

The need for Institutional Controls is yet to be determined.

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Land Reuse Information at this Facility

The facility is unused.

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Site Responsibility at this Facility

RCRA Corrective Action activities at this facility have been conducted under the direction of EPA Region 3 with assistance from the PADEP.

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