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Phytoremediation at Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site, Palmerton, Pennsylvania

Site Name:

Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site


Palmerton, Pennsylvania

Period of

1991 - Ongoing


Full scale

-- 850 acres of Blue Mountain and 220 acres of cinder bank were revegated using seed mixtures and Ecoloam (a mixture of municipal sewage sludge, power plant fly and/or bottom ash, and agricultural limestone).
-- At Blue Mountain, Ecoloam application rates were adjusted as necessary to provide up to 2,000 pounds/acre of organic nitrogen.
-- At the cinder bank, Ecoloam was applied at a rate of 60 dry tons per acre.
-- An additional 350 acres of Blue Mountain and 40 acres of Stoney Ridge were revegated using seed mixtures, mushroom/leaf-litter compost, lime, and fertilizer.

Cleanup Authority:

Remedial Project Manager:
Charlie Root
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Region III
Phone: 215-814-3193

Blue Mountain
Surface soil:
-- Heavy Metals: Cadmium (Cd) (364 to 1,300 parts per million [ppm]), Lead (Pb) (1,200 to 6,475 ppm), Zinc (Zn) (13,000 to 35,000 ppm)

Cinder Bank
-- Heavy Metals: Cd (250 ppm), Pb (3,600 ppm), Zn (27,000 ppm)

Stone Ridge
-- Heavy Metals: Cd (1 to 1,670 ppm), Pb (1 to 1,630 ppm), Zn (40 to 2,122,000 ppm)

Waste Source:
Zinc smelting operations.

Type/Quantity of Media Treated:
As of mid-2006, almost 1,200 acres of the Blue Mountain area, 220 acres of the cinder bank, and 40 acres of Stoney Ridge have been revegetated.

Purpose/Significance of Application:
The site is being revegetated to:
-- Stop or significantly reduce wind erosion, which will prevent the spread of heavy metal contamination through air-borne particulates
-- Stop or significantly reduce surface water erosion, thus preventing the spread of heavy metal contamination into surface waters at the site
-- Increase evapotranspiration by establishing a permanent vegetative cover over the site, which will prevent water from leaching through the contaminated soil and limit the migration of heavy metal contamination to groundwater

After 10 years, the initial 850 acres of revegetated land on Blue Mountain has retained more than 70 percent of its vegetative cover.

Cost Factors:
The estimated cost for revegetating the initial 850 acres of Blue Mountain was $9 million. This cost included the cost of revegetation and the construction of more than 60 miles of switchback roads for use by the application trucks.

The Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site is located in Palmerton, Pennsylvania. The Site operated as a zinc smelter from 1898 till 1980. Smelting operations resulted in heavy metal contamination of the Site and caused defoliation of more than 2,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Blue Mountain. Additionally, process residue and other wastes were deposited along a cinder bank at the base of the Blue Mountain.

After several years of pilot testing, a full scale phytoremediation project was implemented to revegetate the Blue Mountain area. Initially, 850 acres of land on Blue Mountain were revegetated using seed mixtures and a biosolid consisting of lime, potash, sewer sludge, and fly ash. This operation lasted from 1991 to 1995 and cost $9 million. Additionally, 220 acres of the cinder bank were revegetated using this same procedure.

After the initial application on Blue Mountain and the cinder bank, sewage sludge in the biosolid material was replaced with mushroom and leaf-litter due to the public's negative perception of sewage sludge. In 2005, this new mixture was applied to 40 acres of Stoney Ridge and to an additional 350 acres of Blue Mountain.

Studies conducted 10 years after the start of the project, have shown that the initial 850 acres of treated land on Blue Mountain have retained more than 70 percent of their vegetative cover.