Letters: Resident Raises Issues About Possible Contamination at Downtown Princeton Hospital Site

To the Editor:

Princeton citizens should know that the AvalonBay Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by Maser Consulting, fundamentally misrepresents the Phase I environmental investigation on the old hospital site, performed by EcolSciences in September of 2011.

The conclusions and recommendations portion of the EcolSciences report states that “a soil boring investigation should be performed to assess the integrity of the four active underground tank systems.” This recommendation contradicts the AvalonBay Environmental Impact Statement, which states that “no underground tanks or contamination were found on the property” (p. 10). Whether or not these underground tanks indeed pose a public health concern, the complete misrepresentation of the Ecolsciences report in Avalon’s site plan submission to the Planning Board is scary. It breaks the public trust by bringing into question the motives for such a blatant misrepresentation.

The AvalonBay Environmental Impact Statement glosses over the fundamental issue of site contamination. The EcolSciences Report was made available this month only after environmental attorney Aaron Kleinbaum, retained by Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, insisted that the undated environmental investigations cited in the Maser Environmental Impact Statement for AvalonBay,  be made available to the public (letter to Princeton Planning Board and municipal staff, 8/22/12).

The old hospital site is listed on the Environmental Inventory for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (2010) as a “known contaminated site.”

In addition to the issue of storage tanks, the Ecolsciences report calls for “subsurface investigations to determine if the underlying soils and ground water have been impacted by the sewer lines and/or historic septic system discharges.”  No such reports on subsurface investigations have been submitted by AvalonBay.  Attorney Kleinbaum has called for such Phase II studies; he is particularly concerned with the subgrade laboratory at the hospital, which predated strict environmental regulations. The Ecolsciences Report recommends remedial measures to close out the spill cases at 6 and 10 Harris Road.  And on the decommissioning of the hospital, it states: “residual maintenance feed stocks, hazardous waste streams, and other hazardous constituents and chemicals should be transferred offsite to another medical facility or be disposed of prior to manifest.  All lead-lined doors … should be appropriately disposed as part of future demolition activities.  Documentation verifying proper clearance from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be provided relative to decommissioning of X-ray equipment and the linear radiation therapy unit with the cancer treatment ward.”

I know the public cares about environmental contamination and the decommissioning of the hospital. I want to make sure that the EcolSciences conclusions and recommendations (previously unavailable) are made public for professional scrutiny and appropriate municipal action. I am distressed, as I think other Princeton citizens are also, that the AvalonBay Environmental Impact Statement document misrepresents the scientific conclusions of the organization to which it contracted an important job concerning Princeton’s public health.

Alexi Assmus