Amid the swirling debate about the Washington Redskins training camp deal, one question hasn't been buried: Will the 17-acre site behind the Science Museum of Virginia require costly environmental remediation?
Style first asked this question in late October, after learning that the proposed location of the training camp once served as a rail yard in the early 1900s. Part of the property is situated atop what was known as the "Pullman Dump," according to a former museum official. It's where passenger rail cars were cleaned and repaired during the museum's previous life as Broad Street Station.
"It was a very busy, active rail yard," Tom Driscoll, former education and operations manager at the museum, who also served as museum's resident historian, told Style in late October.
Engineers working with the city say that previous environmental studies of the property show "relatively clean soils," says Tammy Hawley, press secretary to Mayor Dwight Jones, in an Oct. 26 email to Style. Museum officials also say the soil is clean.
"Geotechnical and hydrogeochemistry testing was done on the site in 1999 and in 2002. Additional soil testing was done in 2010 & 2011 when the Museum established its urban farm on the site," Nancy Tait, a spokeswoman for the museum, emails to Style. "None of this testing shows any need for environmental remediation."
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Style obtained the geotechnical soil and groundwater test results performed in 2002 by Draper Arden Associates, an engineering and environmental services company, and the soil testing conducted in 2010 by A&L Analytical Laboratories. (To read the test results, click here.)
Environmental scientist Peter DeFur, president of Environmental Stewardship Concepts in Richmond, reviewed the test results for Style. He says the geotechnical testing done in 2002 -- at the time, the museum was proposing to build an outdoor "Discovery Park" on the property behind the museum -- is too limited and dated to conclude that the property is free of toxic contaminants.
"The study wasn't intended to go far enough to conclude that there is no contamination posing health risks," DeFur says. The sampling was too small, he says, and didn't appear to test for volatile, or semi-volatile, contaminants such as PCBs.
"In the past we've had rail yards that are highly contaminated," DeFur says. "So it's not just grease and metals and oils; they have been around long enough that they use PCBs and quite toxic chemicals."
The soil tests performed in 2010 also should have been done in concert with groundwater testing, DeFur says: "You need to do the two of them together, and you need to measure all of the chemicals of potential concern."
That's not to say the soil is contaminated. It could very well be clean, DeFur says. But more comprehensive testing is needed before declaring the museum site is "relatively clean" as city officials have concluded.
"It's really hard to predict. What we are worried about now is vapors coming out of the ground," DeFur says. "You have the potential for exposing children, athletes, adults and pets to soil contaminants such as lead and PCBs."