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Contaminated soil holds up union excavation

By Ty Young
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 23, 1999
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As construction workers prepare to excavate the north side of the Memorial Student Union area, their efforts were held up by contaminated soil found nearly 25 feet deep.

Steve Huie, senior project manager from Swinerton & Walberg, said the excavation of dirt from behind the student union will be affected by the discovery.

"Last week when we were demolishing the reservoir, we ran into some contaminated soil," he said. "That will hold up some of the excavation (slated for next Monday)."

Steve Holland, director of University of Arizona Risk Management, said workers from Swinerton & Walberg were digging near the north wall of the Memorial Student Union, when "they encountered black soil."

"It is very old fuel oil from before the union was built," Holland said.

Herb Wagner, assistant director of UA Risk Management, said the workers found two 200 gallon drums about four feet deep. He did not know where they were from, or how long they had been there.

"They cut into a couple of old fuel oil tanks," he said. "There used to be a swimming pool, and then a reservoir. We don't know what they were actually used for. They may have been used for fuel pumps."

Wagner said because of the method of disposal and the amount of rust on the steel containers, he believes the drums have probably buried for 60 years.

"They were abandoned in place and filled with sand, which before 1970 was an accepted practice," he said.

Wagner also said the contaminated soil will be studied before any more excavation will continue in that area.

"When we get to visibly clean soil, soil samples will need to be taken and chemical analysis done until it shows that the soil is clean."

Wagner said the next step is to remove the soil and transport it to an area that accepts contaminated materials. He said the Butterfield Landfill, which has been accepting the remains of the student union asbestos abatement project, will likely be the site for the soil.

"The soil will be transported to an EPA-approved landfill for fuel oil and asbestos storage," he said. "Also, fuel oil is not considered hazardous waste, so the Environmental Protection Agency will not need to be contacted."

Chris Kraft, construction project manager from UA Facilities Design and Construction, said the fuel oil was from two large containers that were first used in 1916.

"When the power center moved from the union to Fourth Street, they left the containers," he said. "Instead of taking them with them, they covered them up, which was typical for the time."

Kraft also said the contamination may hold up excavation. However, he said officials from UA Risk Management reacted quickly to the situation.

"For every day we have to wait for the soil to be removed, we have to hold off the excavation," he said. "I must say that the people from Risk Management responded in 30 minutes. They've been on top of things."

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