Ribbon-Cutting at New Lock Haven Court (Video Report)

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Clean-up of Contaminated Site is Completed

LOCK HAVEN — More than half a century ago employees at the former Karnish Instruments plant in the city’s hill district used radium-based paint applied to aircraft gauges manufactured and refurbished there.

Friday the ten-year-old cleanup of what was found to be a contaminated Third Avenue site marked a milestone: the ribbon-cutting to celebrate the opening of the new Lock Haven Court, a $1 million elderly housing facility. It replaces the nearby old Lock Haven Court built on ground contaminated with elevated levels of radiation from the long-gone Karnish operation.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has carried out the overall cleaning up the Karnish site. DEP Regional Director Marcus Kohl said the work is being done with funding from the state’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) fund. He called Friday’s event “the final step” in the clean-up.

Cheryl Sinclair, Environmental Group Manager out of DEP’s Williamsport regional office, gave a brief background on the project history and wielded the scissors for the ribbon-cutting.

The new Lock Haven Court provides 11 apartments. One of the residents, Sally Wyland, lauded the transfer from the nearby Lock Haven Court to the new units. She said the project was “professionally done” and that housing developer Northern Cambria Community Development Corporation was most accommodating and praised the “improved environment” at the new units.

The previous Lock Haven Court had been built over soils with elevated levels of radiation. DEP plans to demolish the old building and remediate the contaminated soil by this summer.

The original Lock Haven Court apartment building is adjacent to the former Karnish property where that company had operated from the 1950s to the late 1970s. The Karnish building was subsequently torn down, that ground remediated and a new apartment building constructed on the site by a private developer; DEP said that building is unaffected by the action relative to Lock Haven Court.

DEP began the initial site remediation in 2008, and later conducted an investigation of four adjacent properties that had also been impacted. DEP said in 2011-12, all impacted soil outside the footprint of the apartment building and from the four other properties was excavated and disposed at a low-level radioactive waste facility in Idaho at a cost of about $5.5 million. But in January of 2016 DEP released word on the Lock Haven Court clean-up plans.

History on the overall project came in a DEP release:

“DEP personnel, acting on anecdotal information from a former Karnish employee, performed radiation measurements in the vicinity of the (Karnish) property. Finding elevated levels of radiation, DEP investigated further and determined that the site was contaminated. Extensive radiation surveys were performed to help determine the extent of contamination on the Ron’s Rental property (The Ron’s Rental business operated there from the late 1980s through 2008) and adjacent properties. Five adjacent properties were found to be impacted to varying amounts. One of these sites is the Lock Haven Court senior apartment property, located at 250 Third Avenue.

“The site is contaminated with a radioactive element, radium-226, as a result of work that was performed on aircraft instruments by Karnish Instruments during their operation. Radium was used from before World War II until around 1970 to make glow-in-the-dark paint that illuminated aircraft gauge dials and pointers.

“The founder and former owner of Karnish Instruments passed away in 1979, and there was no source of funding available from his estate…HSCA funding was used for the characterization surveys and studies performed, for all remediation activities to date, and for construction of the new Lock Haven Court apartment building.”

DEP said demolition of the old Lock Haven Court building is slated for next month, followed by remediation of “the remaining impacted soil beneath it will begin.”