Familiar and Transformed Landscape: Hamburg, Pennsylvania

I grew up on a farm in rural Berks County outside of a small town named Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Hamburg  is located today on the fringes of  coal country and was established in the foothills of the Appalachian Blue Mountains on the banks of the Schuykill River. The town today, is known for hosting a Cabelas, a Walmart, Hecky’s Sandwich shop and is reminiscent  of its Pennsylvania Dutch Founders.

It was also the home of the Price Battery Plant for almost the entire 20th century. It was in peak operation from the early 19940s to the mid 90s. During the time when the Price plant was in operation, battery castings were broken upen and lead plates were removed and then smelted within the factory, which is located near the downtown of Hamburg. The smelter had been dismanteled in the early 70s, and had been in operation for nearly 30 years, contaminating the residential areas of Hamburg including the Schuykill River, that was no more than a stone’s throw from the factory. Additionally, the EPA displays a map that shows the local creek that hooks up to the Skyukill river actual ran through the factory during its operation. Compounded by the lead emissions that had been spewing into the area, the led contaminated battery waste were used a fill materials on property within Hamburg.

Restoration efforts began in  November 2002, when the EPA initiated the removal cleanup on 554 residential properties that had lead levels above EPA’s cleanup action level. The site was not placed on the  National Priorities List (NPL)  until 2005. According to WRS Compass, a company that was contracted to help with the clean up peg the project value at approximately $15,687,000. Pictured to the left is the Sckukill river after its restoration, marked by the large imported rocks and defined separation from the also new lawn and imported soil.

At this time the plant was  contaminated with lead, arsenic and antimony, including deteriorating drums; not to mention on-site sumps and trenches had high acid contents.

A bridge used to connect Hamburg to West Hamburg, which holds the town’s favorite local hangout, The Westy, as well as the elementary school for the district, was one of the larger projects undertaken during the restoration efforts. Not only was the bridge reaching disrepair and was presenting itself to be a hazard, highly toxic levels of lead were found not only on the surface of the river bed, but also buried and layered tens of feet under.
It was at this old bridge where I would practice basketball for hours each week as a child with locals old and young. There was aone story semi-permanent home that the residence were evicted and the house was demolished  when they began restoration. Now the basketball courts have a bike rack and the bridge that had a narrow crumbling sidewalk now has a footpath designated for non-vehicular traffic separated from the road.

There are rumors within town that the lead in the Schuykill river to the right of this shot and running under the bridge still has highly toxic levels of lead and arsnic in it, but it buried far benieth the surface and so it no longer poses a threat to the local population.

As this project was initiated when I was in high school, I don’t think I fully comprehend the dearth of what was happening. In fact I think I originally thought they were repairing the bridge because it was no longer safe to support the traffic traveling into and out of Hamburg. Some people I know do not drink the tap water, but the water flowing from the fountains in the local schools come from the same source as many of the local houses.

 This is the tap water that I drank as a child up until 2003, when I no longer attended the Hamburg Public Schools. As you are leaving a government sponsored sign encourages people to have their houses tested for lead poisoning as they leave town.

I would also like to note that Hamburg is located right on top of the Marcellas Shale, so it has recently been targeted as a place where our government has encouraged and sponsored hydrofracking for natural gas- an industry that will employ locals from the region- the same locals whose parents grew up working in the battery factory. I pose the question of how this industry, that has seen the dramatic rise an fall of industry before, will effect this town, my town, environmentally, socially, and economically.

The following sources were used and are cited to allow anyone to explore more about this issue.

“Price Battery.” Mid-Adlantic Superfund. Environmental Protection Agency. Last Updated July 2012. Last Accessed November 2012. http://www.epa.gov/reg3hwmd/npl/PAN000305679.htm


“Response Action Contract for Remedial Planning and Oversight Activities at Sites in EPA Region III.: Final Human Health Risk Assessment for Price Battery Site, Hamburg Pennsylvania. ” U.S. EPA Contract No. 68-S7-3003. Prepared by CDM for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. October 11,  2005. Accessed November 23, 2012.

Price Battery Superfund Site, Hamburg Pennsylvania. WRS Compass- Projects. Accessed November 2012. “Price Battery Superfund Site.” The Energy Library. Accessed November 2012. http://theenergylibrary.com/node/12010

“Price Battery Hambur Pennsylvania.” U.S. EPA Region 2. Environmental Protection Agency. June 2009. Accessed November 2012. http://www.epa.gov/reg3hwmd/npl/PAN000305679/fs/Priceprap.pdf

“Price Battery Superfund Site- Final on National Priorities List.” The Reading Eagle. May 3, 2005. Accessed November 2012. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1955&dat=20050503&id=jy8zAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xqIFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4381,3115306

Antique Map Source


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