UPDATE: This post was modified Friday, April 1, to include comments from Triangle Transit Authority on the city bus stop next to the building to be demolished.
The demolition of a chemically contaminated building on West Club Boulevard near Northgate Mall is likely to begin in mid-May, state officials announced at a public meeting Tuesday night.
The building at 1103 W. Club Blvd. was condemned in 2009 after tests showed soil, groundwater and air in and around the building was contaminated with tetracholoroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PERC. The cancer-linked solvent is commonly used by dry cleaning services. In previous decades, environmental regulations on the handling and disposal of the chemical were lax, and the state is now using a specific program and tax on dry cleaning to evaluate and clean up hundreds of sites across North Carolina. The building had once housed Tharrington's, a clothing store, and a BB&T bank.
The state has already spent nearly $500,000 of the funds created by the Dry Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act to determine just how broad the contamination from the Club Boulevard site is, said John Powers, a supervisor with DENR's Division of Waste Management, which oversees the DSCA program. Tests in 2009 showed that the air inside the Club Boulevard building was too high to be inhabited, and a church that had been renting the space was forced to move.
The chemical has migrated in soil and groundwater south on Watts Street and east to Dollar Avenue in the Trinity Park neighborhood, tests show. Contractors for the state have been working for more than a year to monitor air quality inside homes and another church near the property, as well as groundwater contamination.
As the testing was ongoing, a committee from the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association was appointed to communicate with N.C. DENR and keep neighbors apprised of the developments. But members of that committee and several other residents said that the state had not provided timely and useable information.
"We had a lot of raw data, but no analysis," said Barb Carter, a member of the TPNA committee. She and others asked for some summary to explain, in layman's terms, the scope of the issue.
"You can't expect a neighbor to look at your plume diagram and know anything," said Carter, who has a background in science and is also an attorney. "My passion comes from the fear and the perceived tainting of our neighborhood."
Several other residents lamented the amount of time it has taken the state to determine the building needed to be demolished. The Club Boulevard site was accepted into the state cleanup program in 2006. Part of the delay, Powers said, was reaching an agreement with the building's owner, Liduvina Garcia. Garcia lives in Maryland. She has recently agreed to accept $150,000 in compensation for the demolition of the building.
The demolition is expected to cost another $50,000, Powers said, bringing the total expenditure to $700,000, before any future projects to possibly remove contaminated earth from the site. N.C. DENR is also working to establish restrictions on what the land could be used for in the future to prevent any further issues related to contamination exposure.
In the end, BB&T bank, which owned the building before Garcia, will be on the hook for 1.5 percent of the cleanup costs. BB&T would be responsible because it was the owner of the building when the site was accepted into the state's DSCA program for possible remediation. When Garcia bought the building, BB&T remained the party responsible for that copay.
The building demolition will take about a week, Powers said. During that time, the site will be fenced to prevent trespassers, but the sidewalk and high-traffic city bus stop on the edge of the property will still be in use, said Chan Bryant of Withers & Ravenel, a consultant for the state. The Durham Area Transit Authority opted to keep the bus stop open, but will put up signs notifying bus riders of alternate stops, Bryant said.
Officials from DATA and Triangle Transit Authority, which manages the city bus system, didn't return phone calls Thursday seeking an explanation on the decision.
After talking about the details of the contamination and demolition with state officials, managers of the city bus system determined there was no immediate danger in keeping the bus stop open, said John Tallmadge, a spokesman for TTA, which oversees management and operations of the Durham public bus system.
"They did not have any safety concerns about people standing on the sidewalk or on the bus stop shelter during the period when construction is going on," Tallmadge said Friday. "We will put up signs alerting people to what is happening at the stop and why it’s happening during the demolition, and that it’s safe." The signs will also refer riders to an uncovered stop on Club Boulevard at Gregson Street if they want to move away from the demolition. About 270 people use the route No. 1 stop on weekdays, Tallmadge said.
Bryant said subcontractors doing the demo will take all required precautions for demolishing and removing materials from the site, including those containing asbestos. The air around the site will be monitored during demolition, and in the case that neighbors could be at risk for exposure to unsafe levels of PERC vapor, they would be notified, Bryant said. He said it was unlikely for the demolition to risk airborne PERC exposure, as most of the materials is actually in the soil underneath.
Once the demolition is complete, state officials said, its contractors will begin another process of gathering public input and determining a plan and budget to actually dig out and haul off contaminated soil and other materials beneath and around the building.
Some residents said they worried that the state could merely demolish the building, but not spend additional money to remove the contaminated earth. But Powers assured participants at the meeting that the agency's goal "is to removing what's causing the problem... at the source."
N.C. DENR will schedule another public meeting in late summer to discuss plans for removing the contaminated earth and other remediation measures for what's lurking underground.
There are several other current and former sites of dry cleaning services in Durham where the state has found PERC contamination. For a summary of those sites and more, read "The dirt on dry cleaning," Jan. 20, 2010.