Is City Going To Authorize Home Construction On Toxic Site?

Tensions are rising in Olde Richmond as a demo permit to make way for homes looms

At 2501 E Hagert Street sits a bit of Kensington’s industrial past: the Cattie Galvanizing Company.   This plant which is surrounded by residential homes was originally the home of the Hero Fruit Jar Works factory which automated the process of making glass containers.

But for 50+ years until its close, this plant was a hot dip galvanization facility.   Known as the “galvo” to locals, most galvanizing facilities these days use raised tubs which contain solvents and hot metal in which tin and steel parts are to be dipped for electroplating, creating the nice shiny coating you’re using to seeing on metal parts that are resistant to oxidation and the elements.

This is the type of facility on which homes are now to be put:

Unlike the hot dip plant shown in the video here, the Cattie galvanization plant used pits in the ground with brick and masonry liners which residents claim were not maintained.  Because of this, large plumes of zinc-compound contaminants are located in plumes underneath the site as well as metal particulate condensates up on the roof where metal vapors condensed before being blasted into the open air with ventilation fans.

Deconstruction and excavation of the site poses several problems:

  • The site is believed to have toxic levels of zinc contaminants present.   Overexposure to zinc is toxic to adults
  • Without containment, metal particulates will find their way into neighboring homes as dust carried on shoes and paws of pets and carried into homes.
  • Unsealed homes and those without central air conditioning will face challenges sealing their properties to limit exposure to metal dusts as the site is excavated
  • The public has no access to any plans the property owner submitted detailing how they intend to deal with the environmental hazards present at the site

Don Gould, president of the Olde Richmond Civic Association, had this to say:

We knew this day would come, but we hoped it wouldn’t be now. We are not confident that this property owner will prevent contaminating all the surrounding homes. Greensgrow Farms is a block away and it was once the site of a galvo similar to this one. It was demolished, and for years it spread toxic dust everywhere and became an EPA Superfund site until federal money was used to cap it.

We do not want our beautiful neighborhood turn into the next Love Canal because someone cut corners. The state has a very bad environmental track record and we’re terrified of what could happen. We are going to hold a meeting soon with the community and talk through what our options are.

Hagert Investment Group LLC which owns the I-2 zoned property had once proposed to demolish the Cattie plant and replace the entire city block with rowhomes.  While the Zoning Board of Adjustment refused that request, the present request to demolish the site does not come with zoning attached.

That means the owner has decided to proceed with demolition without the assurance that they will even get permission from the city to build housing there.  That presents a risk that the site does get demolished, even partially excavated, but no permits to build homes.

If this happens it would leave a large amount of toxic soil contaminating the surrounding neighborhood into Fishtown, causing extensive damage to neighboring property as cleanup costs mount.