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Panther Valley to start chemical cleanup

  • FILE PHOTO The Panther Valley School District bought this deteriorating industrial building at 401 W. Bertsch St., Lansford, in June.
    FILE PHOTO The Panther Valley School District bought this deteriorating industrial building at 401 W. Bertsch St., Lansford, in June.
Published November 15. 2010 05:00PM

Work is expected to start by Nov. 29 to clean up chemicals and other materials from a massive old brick building in Lansford in which industrial soap had been made. The school board has yet to determine what it plans to do with the building once any hazardous materials are removed, but the options include demolition.

The Panther Valley School District decided to buy the former Verta building, at 401 W. Bertsch St., adjacent to the district's football stadium, for $800 in June after it had been up for tax sale. The building had been owned by Bennett Verta Jr.

The building contained barrels of chemicals, and the school district needs to work with the state Department of Environmental Protection to remove them and get the building cleaned of any chemicals.

On. Nov. 8, the school board gave Lansford Borough Council a timeline of its actions, and asked the borough's help to block off the street during removal of the chemicals and the demolition, should that occur.

On Nov. 4, school district maintenance supervisor George "Smokey" Krajnak met with a DEP representative and a structural engineer. The building was tested for structural capacity and found to be able to withstand clean up work.

The school district expected to submit a draft work plan to DEP by Wednesday. DEP will review the plan, then issue a final work plan by Friday. The contractor will proceed with the cleanup by Nov. 29, provided all the necessary DEP approvals are met.

The contractor will sample, pack and label all chemicals by the end of December. The next phase will be to bid out contracting work to take the chemicals to a certified location for disposal. This phase should be completed by the end of January, 2011.

DEP spokesman Mark Carmon said his agency is "doing an interim response under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program to characterize and cleanup the materials in the building. There are around 75-100 drums of various acids, hydrogen peroxide and other smaller containers in the building. We had a site visit recently with our statewide contractor, AECOM, and are currently reviewing their draft work plan."

Carmon said DEP's "intention is to mobilize the contractor at the end of this month to begin the process of taking a full inventory of the materials in the building, place any fragile containers in secure containers, characterize/sample the materials if necessary and then stage and remove for disposal."

"Part of HSCA requires cost recovery so we will be keeping a careful accounting of our work," he said. "That will provide a good inventory of exactly what is there and what was removed for proper disposal by our contractor."

Once the chemicals are out of the building, the next phase would involve addressing any lead paint or asbestos. The school district and DEP are working on an industrial site re-use program grant to help offset the costs of removing the materials.

After that, school district officials will meet to discuss the inventory of the remaining contents of the building and its demolition according to DEP guidelines.

The red brick building is in bad shape: its roof is caving in and the walls closest to the school district's stadium appear to be bowed. District Judge Casimir Kosciolek of Lansford, who in January fined Verta $9,000 for failing to make repairs, has called the building an "absolute eyesore."

The school district has been concerned about the building's deterioration, citing worries about the safety of people attending events at the stadium.

Verta bought the building years ago in hopes of using it as a factory to make truck washing soap. But his Everbrite Industries never got off the ground, and Verta fell on hard times. Lansford Code Enforcement Officer Katheryn Labosky has repeatedly cited Verta for code violations that addressed the safety of the building's roof and walls, and sanitation and cleanliness.

Verta eventually lost the building to back taxes.

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