Next Steps for Ambler Asbestos Superfund Site

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

The EPA has finished its clean up at the Ambler Asbestos Superfund Site and plans to outline steps for what’s to come in the 30-year project. In the 1930s, the Montgomery County site hosted an asbestos manufacturing plant. The plant dumped hazardous materials there for decades.

That’s one reason why Ambler was long known as the “asbestos-manufacturing capital of the world.” In 1896, a young scientist named Richard Mattison built the nation’s first asbestos textile plant in Ambler.

The factory produced insulation for power-generating boiler houses and steam locomotives, fireproof curtains for homes, brake linings for automobiles, and other asbestos products.

The 1.5 million cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated waste led to disease, sickness, and death. Not only were workers affected, but also their families who washed the workers’ clothes, children who played near the factories, and others who lived in the nearby town.

According to a 2016 Environmental Working Group Action Fund report, Montgomery County ranks 11th out of 726 counties in the U.S. for the most mesothelioma and asbestosis deaths from 2000 – 2014.

In the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started cleaning up the asbestos in Ambler. In the 2000s, samples were conducted and came back showing dangerously high levels of asbestos, despite the 20 years of work.

More efforts proceeded following the sampling. Materials containing asbestos were removed, creeks have been reengineered, the entire area has been capped with liners and clean soil, and millions of gallons of water in an on-site pond were treated.

According to the final plan from the EPA, water, soil, and air samples will be taken for two years until the project is turned over to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Most of the testing will be “activity-based sampling,” meaning workers will perform activities expected to stir up asbestos while wearing protective gear. For example, this could be walking or raking leaves.

“It’s not necessarily zero asbestos, but it’s a low amount that would be expected to be protective of human health,” said Chief of EPA’s Eastern Pennsylvania Superfund Branch John Epps.

Federal asbestos standards will be used for water, but site-specific limits have been developed for the soil and air. Restrictions will also be put in place for future use and redevelopment of the Ambler site.

According to Epps, “We are very confident in the capping work that we did out there, that it will be a safe place for kids to play, and that the park reuse will be appropriate.”

One section of the site has evolved into a waterfowl preserve. Another parcel is viable for a public park.

“We’ll continue to monitor and make sure there aren’t any exposures and that the remedy is functioning as it was designed,” stated Epps.