Spreading problem

New tests show the petroleum plume relow the former Army Quartermaster Depot extends farther beyond the property’s borderlines than experts had previously thought.

Several existing and recently installed monitoring wells have detected oil below the ground at the Steen Outdoor Advertising property, 3201 S. 26th St. Steen is located immediately west of the Quartermaster Depot, near 20th Street and Oregon Avenue, and just east of the Sunoco Oil Refinery.

Members of the group comprised of community members and government officials that oversees the plume cleanup, known as the Restoration Advisory Board, had been pressing the Defense Department to test the area for five years.

Until July, Steen’s owners had denied the Defense Department access to the property.

The discovery of the plume at Steen was made public during a RAB meeting Oct. 23. Gloria Inverso, the RAB’s community co-chair, was among the board members who had been requesting the testing of the area.

"We’ve grown older and the plume has grown larger," Inverso said.

She noted that eight years ago, when the first drop of oil was discovered at the Quartermaster Depot, also known as the Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, the plume was originally estimated to contain about 50 gallons of petroleum.

After years of testing, the environmental engineering firm hired by the Defense Department to conduct the remediation, Tetra Tech FW, now estimates the volume of the plume to be as much as 2.5 million gallons.

More than 840,000 gallons of petroleum had been pulled from the ground as of the end of September.

It is yet to be determined how the oil at the Steen property contributes to the estimated total volume of subterranean hazardous materials.

Inverso said this discovery puts the RAB another step closer to finding the source of the plume.

The plume’s source continues to be under investigation and litigation is pending. In 1996, the Defense Department and Sunoco signed a consent order with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to clean up the plumes lurking below the DSCP and refinery properties, respectively.

Last month, New York developer Forest City Ratner Companies broke ground on the 500,000-square-foot retail center to be named Quartermaster Plaza. Its list of tenants is expected to include The Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Staples, Petsmart, apparel retailer A.J. Wright, Fleet Bank, Walgreens and restaurants Chili’s, Wendy’s and Old Country Buffet.

It will be one of the largest shopping centers in the city, and will cost $100 million to develop. The center is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to the area.

For more than 80 years, the DSCP property had been used by the U.S. Army as a manufacturing center for its military uniforms and American flags. The military also tested bulk chemicals at the laboratory, and repaired and painted military vehicles at the 86-acre property.

The Army closed its operations there in 1999.

In the spring, crews digging a trench for a pipeline unearthed a deposit of partially hazardous chromium sludge that is linked to diseases such as lung cancer and kidney and liver damage.

The chromium was found buried about 7 feet below the surface in an area of the property near the Schuylkill Expressway. Crews have since placed all the visible green sludge they uncovered in several large bins.

State environmental officials have determined the substance was isolated to the area near the highway and had not leached into the groundwater.