Jackson Cleaners Environmental Remediation; Understanding U.S. Chemical Regulation and Considerations of Environmental Remediation Using Actor-Network Theory

Massarelli, Eva, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Culver, Teresa, EN-CEE, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

My capstone team was tasked with designing an environmental remediation strategy for a site contaminated in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Jackson Cleaners, a dry-cleaning facility, previously operated and improperly handled dry-cleaning hazardous waste. The improper disposal of these chemicals polluted soil vapor, soil, and groundwater at and near the site. This academic year, my team has worked under the guidance of Dr. Teresa Culver, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and the mentorship of engineering professionals from Geosyntec Consultants of Michigan to develop a design for remediating the site.

The contaminants of concern at the site are tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and its daughter products trichloroethylene (TCE), cis-dichloroethylene (c-DCE), and vinyl chloride (VC). These chemicals are all either suspected or confirmed carcinogens. Many of these chemicals cause kidney and liver problems and some are known to cause neurological issues. Remediation of the site is necessary to limit the chances of human exposure to these dangerous chemicals. The town of Ypsilanti does not use the groundwater as a drinking water supply, but vapor intrusion and groundwater movement towards the adjacent Huron River are two pathways that still can cause harm to human health. My team identified these pathways as the targets of our remediation design.

We designed a remediation strategy focused on using two technologies, soil vapor extraction (SVE) and permeable reactive barrier (PRB). To address the vapor intrusion issue, we designed an SVE system to pump air out of the soil, treat the chemicals with activated carbon, and release the cleaned air into the environment. To prevent contaminated groundwater from entering the Huron River and potentially affecting recreational users, we designed a PRB. Our PRB design makes groundwater travel through granular ZVI to dechlorinate the chemicals into non-harmful states. We also mention point source injections of nanoparticle zero-valent iron (ZVI) could be an effective way of treating the areas with the highest concentrations of chemicals, and ease the burden of the remediation technology in other areas of the site. This would also help limit vapor intrusion into buildings near these sites.

Our design also includes supporting information such as a site assessment, predicted costs, and monitoring plans for our design. We followed industry procedure by creating a comprehensive site assessment in the fall semester as we gathered information on the site and how to design remediation plans. In the spring semester, we completed the design as an iterative process as we received feedback from our mentors.

My Science, Technology, and Society (STS) paper sheds light on the issues with U.S. chemical regulations and offers suggestions, informed by Actor-Network Theory (ANT), on how systems could be improved to protect society and the environment. To write my paper, I completed a literature review and used a case study of a former dry-cleaning operation, Crown Cleaners, polluting the groundwater in a town in Herrings, New York.

The chemical industry in the U.S. started in the 1800s but took off post-World War I after the chemical industries' capabilities had been expanded while supplanting shortages from European countries. Chemical companies, backed by the American Chemical Council, went largely unregulated for decades. During this time chlorinated solvents like PCE were being manufactured by U.S. companies and sold to dry-cleaning facilities as cleaning agents. In the 1960s and 70s, high-profile environmental disasters and scientific discoveries caused the public to unite together to push for government legislation to address out-of-control pollution. The results of the environmental movement were legislation to clean the environment by establishing quality standards and to address hazardous chemicals by regulating market entry, pollution, and clean-ups.

I apply ANT to the Crown Cleaners case study to illustrate translations between actors and to identify areas where if the actors behaved differently, the outcome of requiring environmental remediation could have been different. I synthesize these findings to show where remediation efforts need improvement and how existing U.S. laws are largely insufficient and lack much-needed reform.

I argue that the U.S. should adopt stricter legislation on chemical approval to shift the work burden of proving chemical safety from the government to the chemical industry. I also suggest the government reevaluate legislation to close known loopholes and force polluters to take responsibility. Lastly, I recommend the U.S. allocate funding and more manpower to address contaminated sites in the interest of protecting human health.

I wrote my STS thesis on a topic directly related to my technical project after doing initial research on the contaminants at Jackson Cleaners and finding that the dry-cleaning industry is a major user of these hazardous chemicals and often ends up polluting their land and groundwater. I was shocked to find that this is a well-known problem, yet the US government had not banned these chemicals. I wanted to investigate why this would be the case and discover how improvements to how society thinks about hazardous chemicals could be made.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Environmental Remediation, Actor-Network Theory, Chemical Regulation, Groundwater Remediation, Perchloroethylene (PCE)

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science

Technical Advisor: Teresa Culver

STS Advisor: Joshua Earle

Technical Team Members: Stephen Branch, Evan Fee, Hannah Hockensmith, Claire Sharp, Brianna Wright

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