Pennsylvania Field Office
Northeast Region
Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration

Our efforts involving contaminated waste sites go beyond cleanup to restoring natural resources lost or degraded from a hazardous materials release. Superfund legislation provides for restoring natural resources through a process known as natural resource damage assessment and restoration, or NRDAR. It involves receiving monetary compensation from the polluter, to be used to restore or replace natural resources to conditions existing before the hazardous materials release. Past and ongoing cases include Jack’s Creek, Saegertown, Keystone, Palmerton, and Sunoco/Publicker.

Learn about Restoring Habitat at John Heinz
National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum

Jack's Creek Superfund Site
PAFO biologists have been involved for a number of years in assisting EPA with cleanup activities at the Jack’s Creek Superfund site in Mifflin County. The 105-acre site is a former non-ferrous metal smelting and precious metal recycling facility, located partially within the 100-year floodplain of Jack’s Creek. Soils and groundwater were contaminated with toxic concentrations of cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, silver, and zinc. Most of the site could not support vegetation because of the contamination, and soils eroded off the site, polluting Jack’s Creek. PAFO determined that at least 5 acres of wetlands and 37 acres of upland migratory bird habitat had been destroyed or seriously contaminated. Although EPA required cleanup of the site, past habitat losses and possible future wildlife injury from remaining contaminants are not considered under EPA’s program. Under the NRDAR program, PAFO negotiated a settlement with the polluters for additional funds to restore habitat in the Jack’s Creek watershed. In partnership with a local private landowner and land conservancy, we used the funds to restore wetlands, enhance upland habitat, and restore a damaged trout stream.

At the Saegertown Superfund site in Crawford County, an industrial operation polluted a 2.3-acre pond and wetland with multiple contaminants, including PCBs and heavy metals such as lead and mercury. The pond and wetland were frequented by many species of migratory birds. PAFO’s Environmental Contaminants staff conducted a Natural Resource Damage Assessment, and negotiated a settlement with the polluters for funds to compensate the public for injuries to migratory birds. Following extensive coordination with numerous public and private partners, we used the settlement to purchase 626 acres of outstanding upland and wetland wildlife habitat in nearby Erie County for management and protection by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Find the final restoration plan here (PDF).

Keystone Sanitation Landfill Superfund Site
The Keystone Sanitation Landfill Superfund Site, located in Adams County, was responsible for contaminating groundwater and surface water with volatile organic compounds and heavy metals including mercury, zinc, and manganese. The PAFO prepared a natural resource damage claim for the Site based upon injuries to migratory bird habitat, including 2.6 acres of upland forest, 6 acres of forested wetlands, and 17 acres of emergent wetlands. Funds acquired from the settlement have been used to implement restoration projects, which include land conservation and wetland restoration.

Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site
The Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site in Pennsylvania is the site of a former zinc smelting operation. For most of the 20th Century, the facility emitted large quantities of metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese, and zinc that were deposited in the Palmerton area including Blue Mountain and nearby watersheds. Because the high concentrations of metals are toxic to plants, thousands of acres of forestland around the plant were killed. The National Park Service owns and maintains approximately 800 acres of land that has been acquired to protect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in this area. The Pennsylvania Game Commission also owns several thousand acres of State Game Lands on Blue Mountain. Hazardous materials subsequently contaminated several miles of Aquashicola Creek and the Lehigh River as a result of erosion, surface runoff, and shallow groundwater contamination. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues clean-up efforts, federal and State natural resource trustee agencies conducted a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). As a result, in July 2009, five companies agreed to compensate the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania nearly $21.4 million in cash and valuable property. The settlement includes a cash payment of $9.875 million and the transfer of a 1,200-acre property (known as “Kings Manor”) to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Monies recovered through the NRDA process will be used to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent of the injured public resources, in order to compensate the public for lost services provided by those resources. The agencies cooperating in this NRDA case are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and Pennsylvania Game Commission. The agencies completed the Restoration Plan in 2011. Multiple projects have been completed including land acquisition for wildlife habitat protection, Appalachian Trail improvements, and increased fishing access. Additional projects are currently under review.

Palmerton NRDAR Dam Removal Draft Environmental Assessment - for public comment

Sunoco Oil Spill and Publicker Industries NPL Site
In February 2000, a subsurface oil pipeline which crosses the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ruptured, releasing 191,982 gallons of crude oil into a freshwater wetland impoundment within the refuge. PAFO combined the resulting NRDA settlement with settlements from a nearby NPL site, and developed a restoration plan to restore freshwater tidal wetlands on the refuge that had been filled (historically) with dredge spoil. When completed in 2008, the restored, 10-acre freshwater tidal wetland will provide new habitat for anadromous fish and migratory birds. Public access will be provided via trails, pedestrian bridges, and a viewing platform. 

Special Studies
The New York and Pennsylvania Field Offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a study in 2015 and 2016 to evaluate whether neonicotinoid pesticides were present in streams in these states. Neonicotinoids are commonly used insecticides that persist in soil and may readily leach into streams, posing a threat to non-target invertebrates such as aquatic invertebrates and pollinators such as butterflies and bumblebees. Neonicotinoid pesticides were detected in the surface water of five of eleven streams sampled in New York and Pennsylvania, generally exceeding at least one toxicity benchmark for aquatic invertebrates. These pesticides were detected in one of five crayfish samples (New York) and one of ten freshwater mussel samples (Pennsylvania). Data from this limited study indicate that neonicotinoids are present in surface water of streams in New York and Pennsylvania at concentrations that are consistent with concentrations detected in streams in other parts of the United States and Canada. Neonicotinoid detections in crayfish and freshwater mussels are evidence of bioaccumulation of these compounds. Further study is warranted to evaluate the significance of these compounds to aquatic ecosystem impairment and impacts to non-target terrestrial pollinator species.

Neonicotinoid Study 

Last updated: April 11, 2019