UMass Amherst and the EPA Reach Landmark Consent Agreement on Window Glazing Contaminated with PCBs in the Lederle Research Center

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst has entered into a consent agreement and final order with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would safely allow the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminated window glazing found in the Lederle Graduate Research Center low-rise and 16-story Tower A to temporarily remain in place. The agreement is considered a first-in the-nation solution to a problem found in many buildings built from 1950 through 1979.
Under the agreement, UMass Amherst agrees to encapsulate the window glazing in the two buildings, test the encapsulant and adjacent surfaces and take air-quality measurements to make sure building occupants are safe. At the same time, the university agrees to start by removing windows in Tower A on floors 3, 7 and 8 by Dec. 31, 2012 and to replace all of the approximately 900 windows over 15 years at the cost of about $3 million. The university also agrees to complete window cleaning, encapsulation, verification and baseline sampling within 24 months of the effective date of the agreement; the cost of these interim measures is about $560,000. The settlement agreement also includes a $75,000 civil penalty that will be waived if both the long-term remediation plan and interim encapsulation plan are completed.
At issue is window glazing compound used in construction from the 1950s through the mid-1970s that is contaminated with PCBs, a substance used to make caulking more flexible. PCBs were subsequently banned in 1979. As buildings from the affected era age and require renovation or modernization, dealing with the contaminated caulking and other products containing PCBs has become a national issue both for the EPA and building owners. The Lederle complex at UMass Amherst was constructed in the early 1970s.
“The University and EPA has worked together on a solution that will provide necessary safeguards for the community while allowing the university to establish a longer-term solution to a project that is not only costly but logistically difficult,” said Donald A. Robinson, director of Environmental Health and Safety at UMass Amherst. Robinson said the agreement is the result of the EPA and UMass Amherst being committed to protecting the campus community and the environment.
The encapsulation process involves applying aluminum foil tape followed by a silicone caulking barrier over the existing window glazing compound. In addition, the university agrees to perform long-term maintenance and monitoring of the windows, which will include visual inspections, collecting wipe samples from window ledges and encapsulated surfaces, and collecting air samples annually. The results of the monitoring, corrective actions and any remediation activities will be reported to the EPA, will be available on the university’s Environmental Health and Safety website and will be posted for University personnel.
In 2006, PCBs were discovered in exterior caulking and soil samples during facade repairs and building waterproofing work at the Lederle complex. As part of that ongoing project, Environmental Health and Engineering of Newton conducted extensive indoor air monitoring and interior dust sampling, said Robinson. The monitoring and testing done at that time showed that the site was in compliance with all applicable environmental and health related standards, he says.
In 2009, PCBs were found in window glazing material in the low-rise building, Tower A and in connecting walkways. The levels of the substances exceed limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so remediation measures are required, Robinson said.