A potentially poisonous chemical has been discovered in the groundwater on the York College campus, but an engineer for CUNY says, as it isn’t at dangerous levels, there is no need for concern.
Tectonic Engineering & Surveying Consultants was hired by the state Dormitory Authority to help solve a flooding problem in the subbasement at York. It reported the existence of perchloroethylene in ground water that was sampled and tested at a monitoring well near the Performing Arts Center, according to Ali Vedavarz, CUNY’s director of engineering services.
He added that the departments of Environmental Protection and Environmental Conservation have been notified. However, the DEC says it has no record of such a notification and the DEP did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
PCE, also known as tetrachloroethylene, is a colorless liquid widely used for dry cleaning fabrics. Exposure to harmful amounts of PCE over extended periods of time can cause cancer, liver and kidney damage and memory loss and confusion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Water continues to seep into York’s basement through cracks in the slab, a problem aggravated by a rising groundwater table. In an effort to correct that problem, Tectonic proposed pumping water from below the basement slab, which would involve pushing wells into the sand beneath the Academic Core Building, to extract the water through a header pipe. It would move south under the Guy R. Brewer Boulevard sidewalk in front of the building then under Liberty Avenue to a recharge area located near the Health and Physical Education Building.
But that idea was scrapped when the PCE was found. Tectonic concluded that the existence of the chemical in the groundwater would warrant the installation of a water treatment plant at the south side of the campus. A treatment plant is costly, requires a large footprint and has a high service and maintenance cost, making it unfeasible for the college, Vedavarz said.
In most cases, its operation and maintenance must be outsourced and requires continuous monitoring, he added. As a result, it was more practical to consider a waterproofing option that has no environmental impact.
The new plan involves covering the subbasement with a mesh membrane, raising the slab and reinforcing the walls so that the water is pushed down. It would stop the continued groundwater infiltration without having to remove or relocate the boilers, chillers, and other major equipment. The estimated preliminary cost of the waterproofing work is about $26 million, Vedavarz said.
He maintains that the PCE is below the maximum level allowed by DEP and therefore is not dangerous. Since the college has ditched the initial pumping plan, placing a treatment plant on the campus is not required.
The college’s administration has not notified students or the surrounding community about the presence of PCE in the water, according to Vedavarz, who said he is not sure if that is required at this point.