Former Smelter Site Remediation

“The difference between back then and today cannot be overstated.”
– Dale Oglesby, Mayor of Galena, Kansas

Dale Oglesby leases ten acres of a former smelter site in Galena, Kansas, for his salvaged materials business; he also just so happens to be the town’s mayor.

Galena was a mining boomtown named after its rich deposits of lead sulfide, an ore found in abundance in the area. To extract valuable metals such as lead or zinc from the ore, extreme heat and a chemical reducing agent decompose the ore in a process called smelting, releasing byproducts as gases or slag and leaving only the desired metals. In 1878, the EaglePicher Company built the only smelter in town. It was the largest lead and zinc smelter in the world.

EaglePicher was smelting in spades until 1980, after the mines were exhausted and Galena’s mining companies abandoned ship. The smelter would soon be abandoned as well.

EaglePicher declared Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2005, and assets of value were sold nationwide. However, there remained seventeen environmentally impaired sites, including the smelter in Galena. A trust fund was established to remediate the impaired sites to commercial and industrial standards, of which $6.5 million was dedicated to the highly contaminated 148-acre Galena site.

Not wanting to lose the historical mining-era structures, Mayor Oglesby contacted William West, the Custodial Trustee for the remediation fund. “My business encourages reutilization of old assets,” said Oglesby. “I knew the EaglePicher facility would be a classic example of finding a way to make salvaged property useful again.”

CEC was retained in 2006 as the environmental consulting firm for all of the impaired EaglePicher sites, with Vice President Marty Knuth serving as project manager. An environmental investigation program was prepared and implemented to evaluate the nature and extent of contamination in Galena. “Dealing with nearly 150 acres is an awesome task,” said West. “The key thing was CEC’s approach for characterization of the site’s environmental issues.”

To delineate areas of contamination, CEC performed instant on-site screening of soil samples using an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, saving time and limited cleanup funds. CEC was instrumental in helping state agencies understand the efficacy of the XRF for accurate readings (versus conventional testing and lab characterization).

The prescribed remediation involved excavation of impacted soils and on-site encapsulation in a consolidation cell topped with a revegetated cover, which CEC designed. Short Creek, a stream running through the property, was dredged of lead-contaminated sediments, and upland areas along the stream were remediated, regraded and revegetated. In all, 191,000 cubic yards of soil were included in the earthwork plan.

“Environmental actions will be complete before the end of 2013,” said Knuth. All of the buildings also were remediated and are now being utilized—nothing was wasted. Acres where smelter waste and heavy metal contamination prevented vegetation for 100 years are now reseeded and growing. “There has been a dramatic change in the landscape,” said Oglesby. “If it hadn’t been for the Custodial Trust and CEC, the site wouldn’t be what it is today.”