Publicker Industries Case Study
Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
Last Updated April 1999
One of the worst hazardous waste sites in the Mid-Atlantic region resulting from 75 years of alcohol distillation processing, chemical mixing and storage
The planned construction of a $250 million multi-purpose shipping terminal in the port of Philadelphia
Local jobs, income, and spending, increased property values, and increased public revenues
Just months after a five-alarm fire and several explosions ravaged the abandoned Publicker Industries property located along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, EPA began to investigate what many people referred to as an environmental "time bomb." What officials found at this former distillery, and chemical mixing and storage facility made it one of the worst uncontrolled hazardous waste sites in the Mid-Atlantic area with more than two million gallons of toxic wastes. EPA and a developer cleaned up the site which is poised to become a "superport," with terminal facilities for passengers and commercial goods. A $250 million landmark redevelopment plan will turn the old Publicker site into what may be one of the best redevelopment sites in the region. What follows is the story of how EPA formed a partnership with the state and a private company to seal this redevelopment project and of the positive economic impacts and environmental and social benefits that are expected to result.
Publicker Industries, Inc., has a long history in the City of Philadelphia. From 1912 to 1985, the company owned and operated a liquor and industrial alcohol distillation plant. In the late 1970s, because production slowed, Publicker used its tanks to store chemicals and fuel oil for other companies. In February 1986, because production continued to decline, Publicker ceased operations and sold the property to the Overland Corporation. The following November, after an explosion had killed two workers, Overland declared bankruptcy and abandoned the site.
The site occupies 42 acres of waterfront property along the western banks of the Delaware River in the southeast portion of the city. It is in an industrial area near three major railroads and the Walt Whitman bridge. About three miles downstream, people use the Delaware River for recreational activities. The peregrine falcon-an endangered species-nests on the bridge.
In 1989, EPA added the site to its list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup. To stabilize conditions, EPA quickly removed the immediate threats posed by the explosives. With advice from the local community, the Agency then addressed the remaining health threats by removing the asbestos, demolishing and removing contaminated buildings and debris, excavating contaminated soils and other debris for shipment to an off-site disposal facility, and closing and sealing groundwater wells. EPA took legal action against Publicker, which will pay over $13 million for the cleanup.
Located in a prime industrial area, the site is now safe and being redeveloped by Holt Cargo Systems, Inc. After Holt took an interest in the property, the company, EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) concluded a Prospective Purchaser Agreement (PPA). That allowed Holt to purchase the property for $4 million without being held responsible for the contamination. As part of the agreement, Delaware Avenue Enterprises, an affiliate of Holt, cleaned up the remaining contamination and prepared the site for a $250 million project to expand Holt's shipping facilities. The redevelopment plans include a 1,200-foot pier along the Delaware River to support warehouses, special port facilities, a container cargo dock, and the city's first dedicated passenger ship terminal. Plans also include container ship berths with on-dock rail service and special facilities for handling automobiles, dry bulk materials, and refrigerated liquid bulk commodities. Finally, to handle the recent rise in the amount of perishable goods arriving at the port, Holt will build refrigerated warehouses and other temperature-controlled storage facilities. Port officials estimate that Holt may bring an additional 80,000 cargo containers through their expanded facilities each year.
"Holt was able to come in and invest in the property. So instead of having a health hazard here... we are going to have a cleaned-up site producing additional jobs and cargo for the port of Philadelphia." - Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, speaking at the celebration for the Publicker Industries site being named EPA's 500th Construction Completion Site.
Keys to Success
The remarkable $250 million redevelopment project was made possible by the partnership among EPA, PADEP, and Holt Cargo Systems. Their agreement for the cleanup and redevelopment of the property was formalized with a PPA, one of several legal tools EPA uses to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of Superfund sites. In exchange for Holt's commitment to complete the remainder of the cleanup and redevelop the site, EPA agreed to exempt Holt from liability for past and existing contamination. Another key ingredient of the success was the site's close proximity to several modes of transportation, including the inter-modal rail transfer facility that provides rail connections to Canada and the Midwest. This rail link was an important factor in Holt's decision to redevelop the site as its prepares the port to become a hub for perishable cargoes.
For more information about the cleanup and redevelopment of the Ohio River Park site, contact:
U.S. EPA- Region 3
1650 Archer Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-2029