ST. LOUIS — Over the past several decades, thousands of children at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club in north St. Louis have played across the street from one of the most contaminated sites in the region: an old carburetor factory abandoned nearly 30 years ago.
An agreement announced Monday was a major step in getting rid of the dangerous relic.
Elected officials, leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office and others spoke at a ceremony outside the old Carter Carburetor plant to announce plans for a $30 million cleanup.
No public money will be used at the site, which officials say hasn't been linked to any confirmed illnesses. The remediation is funded by Carter Building Inc. and ACF Industries Inc., a successor to the company that owned the carburetor factory. Work is expected to start by the end of summer.
"Today marks the beginning of the end for a longtime hazard and community eyesore," Karl Brooks, administrator for EPA Region 7, said at the ceremony.
The plant employed 3,000 people at its peak. It sits across the street from Sportsman's Park, the former home to the St. Louis Cardinals and, for many years, the St. Louis Browns. Not long after the Cardinals moved to Busch Stadium in 1966, the Hoover club began using the old ballpark site.
But as the auto industry began making cars and trucks that didn't use carburetors, the factory work waned. It finally closed in 1984, leaving behind a crumbling, four-story brick structure, other dilapidated buildings and a weed-infested, 10-acre lot.
More problematic is the pollution. The main building contains asbestos. Soil contains cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and trichloroethylene, or TCE, a toxic solvent used to clean and degrease carburetor components. It was designated an EPA Superfund site in 1993. Brooks characterized cleanup negotiations as "complicated," in part because of changes in ownership.
Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. recalled playing near the site as a child and seeing green water ooze from the soil. Today the site is surrounded by a tall, chain-link fence with signs warning people to stay out.
Elected officials said the cleanup is long overdue.
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, a Democrat whose district includes the site, said the St. Louis plant is among many environmental disasters dotting urban communities — most often in minority neighborhoods.
"That sort of environmental racism is shameful and has been going on for decades," he said.
Mayor Francis Slay said he shared the frustration of neighbors of the plant who have been fighting for years to get the site cleaned up.
"You have the right to a clean and safe environment to raise your children," Slay said.
The cleanup plan calls for demolishing the main manufacturing building and hauling away asbestos-contaminated rubble.
To clean up the soil, thermal probes will be inserted into the ground, heating soil to 635 degrees. The EPA said that will vaporize the TCE. Vapors will be captured by a vacuum and cleaned.
The agreement calls for PCB-contaminated soil to be excavated and removed.
The remediation is expected to take five years. After that, the hope is, the site will be redeveloped into businesses that will revitalize the area.
Children from the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club released dozens of balloons to signify the new beginning.
"It means the transformation of a community and our collective outlook for a better future," said Flint Fowler, president of the club.