At a public meeting last Thursday, DC Water laid out its plans to proceed with the Soapstone Valley sewer rehabilitation project, over objections by ANC 3F commissioners and other members of the community concerned about the potential for air and water pollution from the sewer relining process called cured-in-place pipe, or CIPP.
Two days before the DC Water meeting, ANC 3F passed a resolution urging Council member Mary Cheh to secure an emergency stop work order “until DC Water and DOEE complete an analysis and comparison of the thermal CIPP and UV technologies, including weighing the different environmental and human health impacts of each.” (Watch the ANC meeting on YouTube.)
A January ANC 3F resolution asked the National Park Service, DC agencies and Mayor Muriel Bowser to pause the project for further study of CIPP. But on February 11th, DC Water sent out a project update saying that its contractor, Inland Pipe Rehabilitation, would begin tagging trees for pruning and removal on that day. IPR will be using hot water to cure the new resin lining of the pipes, and the process will require clearing paths and staging areas for the equipment.
At its February 17th virtual meeting, DC Water attempted to ease neighbors’ concerns about the safety of hot water CIPP. Its presentation also touched on the history of the Soapstone project, the environmental assessment, and the project’s current status. Here are some of the takeaways:
Bats are driving the timing of the tree removals. An endangered bat species mates in trees in this area of the park in April and May. Trees being marked through the end of this month and need to be removed or trimmed by the end of March. The window for this type of work won’t open again until November.
Two sites will account for the largest share of the trees removed. The two storm sewer outfalls at Albemarle Street and Connecticut Avenue, and at the dead end of Linnean Avenue, will be repaired during the project.
A slide in the presentation listed the federal regulations that the Soapstone project’s environmental assessment (EA) was to address. The Clean Air Act was not among them. The only air pollution mitigation measures in the EA involved dust and construction vehicle emissions, and were to be addressed, in part, by watering down construction areas during dry periods and limiting vehicle idling.
DC Water officials mentioned more than once that there would be no “intentional” air pollution from the hot water CIPP process. They did not explain what that meant.
DC Water will be hiring a third party to perform air quality monitoring. The agency is also working with the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) to develop a level of safety that the project would have to operate under. If the emissions exceed that limit, work would stop until problem is addressed.
DC Water still needs federal and DC permits for the project. The agency is in discussions with DOEE.
In addition to changing the curing method from steam to hot water (which DC Water announced at the January ANC 3F meeting), the liner has been changed to one that contains no styrene, VOCs, or any materials that would create toxic fumes. DC Water promised to release a list of liner materials to the public.
To further prevent fumes from traveling through the sewers into houses, apartment buildings and businesses, DC Water’s contractor will start the work downstream, use sewer bypasses, and stack water in sewer manholes. DC Water said the P-traps in our plumbing are another line of defense.
Among those listening in was Andrew Whelton, the Purdue professor and CIPP researcher who joined Forest Hills Connection earlier that week for a conversation on CIPP pollution. He took issue with what he called “a number of false statements mentioned by the utility and contractor about CIPP.” Posting in the chat, he specifically pointed out that P-traps do not always provide protection.
Whelton also posted two links in the chat. One was to a paper he published with colleagues on various ways CIPP waste can enter a home. The other link, CIPPSafety.org, is a Purdue site with links to its research and news articles about CIPP.
Marjorie Share, a neighbor and longtime Forest Hill Connection contributor, introduced us to Whelton and his work in a November 2021 op-ed on the human and environmental impacts of thermal CIPP waste. Whelton and another CIPP expert told her that ultraviolet, or UV, curing of the new pipe lining would produce less pollution. UV curing equipment is also smaller and lessens the need for tree removal.
DC Water’s Soapstone contractor, IPR, did not have UV capability when it was awarded the contract last year. But on February 3rd, it announced an agreement to acquire Inliner, a trenchless pipe rehabilitation firm that specializes in UV CIPP and other processes.