Karnish Instruments

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1.0 Site Identification

Type of Site: Complex Materials
Location: Lock Haven, PA
License No.: N/A
Docket No.: N/A
License Status: None

2.0 Site Status Summary

Karnish Instruments was a manufacturing and repair facility for aircraft instruments. The operations performed involved the removal and application of radium paints on instrument dials and pointers. The use of solvents and other techniques appear to have been common for paint removal. The business was established shortly after World War II at a small building adjacent to the Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven. The building was gone prior to the Department becoming aware of the existence of a relatively small amount of radium contaminated soil around the original building footprint. The business moved across town to a larger facility on Third Avenue, Lock Haven in 1953 and continued operations until 1979. The Third Avenue building sat vacant until 1982 when an equipment rental and repair shop moved in. The rental and repair business owner was completely unaware of the former use of radioactive materials on the property. In approximately 2004 the owner remodeled the then-vacant second floor turning it into four apartments. In 2007 the Department became aware of the existence of the significant levels of contamination on the property.

During discussions with the owner of another contaminated instrument repair facility located in Lock Haven, the Department was made aware of the former Karnish Instruments operations. During a follow up investigation the Department determined that both properties were contaminated. The rental and repair business property was clearly the most affected property. A characterization of the building and surrounding soils showed widespread contamination including under the foundation of the building. The Commonwealth's Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) group was brought in to facilitate the site characterization and cleanup.

In 2008, the two known affected properties were cleaned up under the HSCA program. The remediation included the complete demolition and disposal of the building as radioactive waste at a licensed facility in Utah. Additionally 40,000 cubic feet of soil was disposed of at the same location. To date, the cleanup has cost over $5 million. The two former Karnish Instruments sites were released for unrestricted use in early 2009.

During final surveys of the main affected property, it was found that additional contamination existed on neighboring properties. This was not identified earlier due to detection interference from the higher radiation levels on the main property. Characterization of the surrounding properties was performed in 2009. While the contamination mainly affects one adjacent property, localized "hotspots" have been found on at least four other properties. HSCA contractors performed a Feasibility Study with remedial options in April 2010. Following a comment period involving the Department and HSCA, the Department decided that the remedial action of choice was to remove all contaminated soil from the adjacent properties and release the properties for unrestricted use.

All adjacent properties were decontaminated by October, 2011 with the exception of removal of soil from underneath the floor slab of the Lock Haven Court (LHC) building. Restoration (parking lot, landscaping, sidewalks, etc.) of the adjacent properties was completed in April, 2012. Total cost to date for cleanup of the adjacent properties exceeded $3 million.

The LHC building consists of 11 apartments for elderly tenants who qualify for HUD-subsidized housing. Interior characterization of the LHC building involved floor surface gamma measurements, sub-slab soil sampling and radon testing. The building's passive radon mitigation system was converted to an active system in response to elevated radon levels. A soil sample from beneath the first floor slab exhibited significantly elevated concentrations of radium-226. A systematic floor level gamma survey indicated that subslab soil contamination was widespread, especially under the front of the building where the community room and building manager's office are located.

The gamma radiation dose resulting from sub-slab radium contamination does not pose a threat to health and safety of the occupants, visitors or maintenance personnel under current building use scenario. However, prior to releasing the building for unrestricted use, remediation of the sub slab soil will need to be accomplished. An analysis of alternatives performed by the HSCA program in 2013 recommended complete demolition of the LHC building followed by remediation of the exposed soil to levels that would allow release of the property for unrestricted use.

3.0 Major Technical or Regulatory Issues

The owners of these properties are considered innocent parties by the Department. There remains no legacy business or even ownership from Karnish Instruments. Therefore, there was no licensee under which to perform the required cleanup. An evaluation was performed by the HSCA group to determine the best approach for remediation of the sites. Options considered included: no action, an attempt to cleanup the Third Avenue property that would leave the building standing, or a total dismantlement of the Third Avenue building and removal of all impacted soils at both sites.

HSCA completed cleanup of the former Karnish sites at the Third Avenue location and the Piper Memorial Airport location in February 2009. The Piper Memorial Airport property required removal of contaminated soil. Cleanup of the Third Avenue property included demolition of the building and removal of all impacted soil. Demolition debris and excavated soil was shipped to a licensed facility in Utah for disposal. Cleanup costs exceeded $5,000,000.

As the Third Avenue property cleanup neared completion the HSCA contractor discovered that radium contamination existed on several adjacent properties. Remediation was performed on the adjacent properties with the exception of the contaminated soil that is known to exist under the first floor slab of the occupied LHC apartment building. The contamination is too widespread to allow remediation to be performed while the building is occupied and may not be feasible without total demolition of the building.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, March 09, 2021