The Bulletin

Montross Superfund site that has eluded cleanup for 35 years part of new $1 billion push

By: - December 22, 2021 7:04 am

The main entrance to the former Arrowhead Associates/Scovill Corp. Site, an EPA Superfund site on the Northern Neck. (Environmental Protection Agency)

A highly contaminated Westmoreland County site once used to manufacture cosmetic cases may finally be cleaned up after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency selected it as one of the first recipients of $1 billion in Superfund spending included in the recently enacted federal infrastructure law. 

Approximately $8.3 million is scheduled to go toward cleanup of groundwater and soil contamination at the Arrowhead Associates/Scovill Manufacturing Superfund site, which sits roughly two miles southeast of Montross on Virginia’s rural Northern Neck

The funding comes from the first round of $3.5 billion in federal infrastructure spending earmarked for work at Superfund sites, considered the worst of the worst polluted places in the U.S. 

Virginia is home to 36 Superfund sites, many linked to historic industrial activity and military installations. 

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The Arrowhead-Scovill site, which was added to the National Priority List in 1990, has plagued environmental officials since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began trying to clean it up in 1986. 

Starting in the mid-1960s, a string of companies manufactured cosmetic cases at the location using electroplating, lacquering and enameling processes. The first phase of cleanup involved the removal of hundreds of barrels of hazardous chemicals, including cyanide solutions, solvents and corrosives. 

But despite repeated efforts and investments, a January 2021 report by the EPA found that “hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants remain at the site above levels that allow for unlimited use and unrestricted exposure.” 

Investigations have revealed persistent contamination of both soils and groundwater at the site.

The 2021 report identifies three solvents — tetrachloroethene, commonly called PCE; trichloroethene, or TCE; and 1,4-dioxane — as “the primary contaminants of concern that pose the greatest potential unacceptable risks to human health at the site.” 

The former Arrowhead/Scovill site today contains a manufacturing building, parking lot, five former sludge settling ponds and a treated wastewater pond. It is currently operated as a tactical security training facility. 

In a Friday release announcing the 49 projects that will receive the first $1 billion in new Superfund spending, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that about 60 percent are in historically underserved communities.

Virginia Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, called the new funding “a monumental first step in combating environmental injustice and ensuring a healthier future for all Americans, regardless of their zip code or socioeconomic status.” 

Besides the billions in infrastructure dollars, the Superfund program will also receive an influx of cash from a reinstated excise tax, ranging from 48 cents to $9.74 per ton, on the sale of 42 chemicals. Such a “polluters tax” existed until 1995, when Congress allowed it to expire. 

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is the Mercury's environment and energy reporter, covering everything from utility regulation to sea level rise. Originally from McLean, she has spent over a decade in journalism and academic publishing and previously worked as a staff reporter for Chesapeake Bay Journal, the Progress-Index and the Caroline Progress. She is the recipient of a first place award for explanatory reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists and has twice been honored by the Virginia Press Association as "Best in Show" for online writing. She was chosen for the 2020 cohort of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]

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