Frequently asked questions about the dismantling and remediation work at the ARA STEIH site

Thank you very much for your interest in the ongoing ARA STEIH dismantling and remediation project. You will find answers to frequently asked questions below.

Click here for more information on the history of the ARA STEIH wastewater treatment plant.

General questions concerning the project

1. Why is the soil at the ARA STEIH site contaminated?

The contamination with lindane was caused by the former company Produits Chimiques Ugines KUHLMANN (PCUK), which produced lindane on the site from 1947 to 1974. The site was acquired in 1973 by what was then Sandoz for the purpose of building an industrial sewage plant. The project will see Novartis cleaning up legacy soil contamination at the ARA STEIH site, pollution for which it was not responsible. Novartis is planning a public cycling and pedestrian path, a green area and a parking lot on the site.

2. How is the dismantling and remediation work at the ARA STEIH site progressing?

The dismantling work began in mid-2012 with the dismantling of the technical installations, buildings and tanks. At the same time, soil remediation work was started along the banks of the Rhine, where a wastewater pipeline was installed, which now carries industrial wastewater into Switzerland for treatment at the ProRheno wastewater treatment facility in Basel. As a result, it was possible to decommission the STEIH wastewater treatment facility in late 2012.

After the selection of new remediation companies, work was taken up gradually over a period of around six months. Every stage was considered for possible impacts and, if necessary, optimized. This test phase was completed in June 2015. Regular operations began upon prior agreement between French and Swiss authorities.

Air quality will be continuously monitored. On the basis of the measurements obtained and what we know today, there is and never was at any point a risk to humans or the environment. The companies involved are committed to completing the remediation safely and without any risk to the population or the environment. The aim of the remediation is to reduce the residual concentrations of lindane by-products and other legacy contamination and thus to permit all possible follow-up use of the land.

The lindane contamination was caused by the former company Produits Chimiques Ugines KUHLMAN (PCUK), which manufactured lindane on the site from 1947 to 1974. Sandoz acquired the area in 1973 with a view to constructing an industrial sewage treatment plant.

In remediating the soil at ARA STEIH, Novartis is cleaning up legacy contamination which it did not cause.

3. When will the work be completed?

We estimate the remediation work mainly being finished until October 2018.

4. Is this a total cleanup that will rule out any risks for the future use of the site?

Yes, it is a complete cleanup. Its aim is to reduce the residual concentrations of lindane to a minimum, so that full use can be made of the area. The residual concentrations will have no effects on people or the environment.

5. What will become of the land once it has been cleaned up?

A public cycle and footpath will be built along the Rhine bank on the Alsace side of the border as a continuation of the Undine project on the Swiss side. This link will extend from the border to the Tri-Countries Bridge. Parks, gardens and parking areas will cover the remaining surface.

6. What is the cost of decommissioning and remediation and who is paying?

The originally estimated project costs of 100 million euros will rise by approximately 100% according to the latest assessment. They are mainly being borne by Novartis.

Questions regarding the halt to remediation work due to lindane contamination

7. Why did Novartis decide on September 24, 2013 to stop remediation work on the STEIH site?

Air quality measurements taken by the Basel municipal authorities and Novartis showed that odor emissions and the dispersal of lindane-contaminated dust during operations were not reduced as anticipated. Novartis therefore temporarily suspended the remediation work at the STEIH site on September 24. Pollutant levels in the air and soil are still being continuously monitored. Based on recent measurements and what we know today, the site has never posed a risk to people or the environment.

8. Did the authorities order suspension?

No, this decision was taken by the Novartis project team on September 24, 2013. However, the authorities were notified immediately.

9. When could work be resumed?

After the selection of new remediation companies, work was taken up gradually over a period of around six months. Every stage was considered for possible impacts and, if necessary, optimized. This test phase was completed in June 2015. Regular operations began upon prior agreement between French and Swiss authorities.

Air quality will be continuously monitored. On the basis of the measurements obtained and what we know today, there is and never was at any point a risk to humans or the environment. The companies involved are committed to completing the remediation safely and without any risk to the population or the environment. The aim of the remediation is to reduce the residual concentrations of lindane by-products and other legacy contamination and thus to permit all possible follow-up use of the land.

10. Are there estimates as to how much the interruption to remediation work and the additional measures will cost?

The originally estimated project costs of 100 million euros will rise by approximately 100% according to the latest assessment. They are mainly being borne by Novartis. Most important for Novartis is that the STEIH site is safe and can be redeveloped without any danger to the public.

Questions concerning the lindane dust measured in the air and the unpleasant odor

11. What is lindane? What dangers does lindane pose for the environment and for people and animals exposed to it?

Lindane was mainly used as an insecticide in agriculture, livestock farming and in pets and was the last organochlorine insecticide to be banned, because it exhibited the lowest bioaccumulation of this substance group. Acute toxic effects can occur after ingestion of significant quantities. Chronic toxic effects can occur only as a result of exposure over several years.

Based on recent measurements and what we know today, the site has never posed a risk to people or the environment.

12. How did the lindane get on the site?

The lindane contamination was caused by the former company Produits Chimiques Ugines KUHLMAN (PCUK), which manufactured lindane on the site from 1947 to 1974. Sandoz acquired the area in 1973 with a view to constructing an industrial sewage treatment plant.

In remediating the soil at ARA STEIH, Novartis is cleaning up legacy contamination which it did not cause.

13. Why does it smell on the site as well as over a large area as far as Basel, depending on the wind direction?

Some substances generated in the synthesis of lindane as a byproduct have a characteristically musty smell. The perception of smell is highly individual therefore it is impossible to define a threshold limit. It is possible to detect odors even if emissions at the remediation site are below the HCH guideline values. Odor alone is not an indicator that the guideline values have been exceeded. The measurements regarding pollutant concentrations are continued without interruption.

Measurement results Lufthygieneamt Basel

14. How seriously does Novartis take the risk posed by the lindane dust measured in the air in Basel?

Novartis affirms that the cleanup work can be completed without posing any risk to the population or environment.

Novartis temporarily suspended the remediation work at the STEIH site on September 24. After the selection of new remediation companies, work was taken up gradually over a period of around six months. Every stage was considered for possible impacts and, if necessary, optimized. This test phase was completed in June 2015. Regular operations began upon prior agreement between French and Swiss authorities.

Pollutant levels in the air and soil are still being continuously monitored. Based on recent measurements and what we know today, the site has never posed a risk to people or the environment.

The fact that environmental protection and public health have the highest priority for Novartis is also shown by the halt to the remediation work, which is generating running costs.

Measurement results Lufthygieneamt Basel

15. Is there a legally defined cleanup threshold?

There are no fixed, legal threshold values for soil remediation in France. The remediation objectives are determined according to the subsequent use of the land and on the basis of the remaining risk posed by residual contamination.

16. Since when has Novartis been getting reports of unpleasant odors in Kleinbasel?

We received the first such report in June 2013. But we – like the authorities – have only received very sporadic reports.

17. Have new safety measures been introduced since Novartis learned of the unpleasant odor emissions?

Novartis has continuously implemented improvements but we have taken these reports seriously and have thoroughly re-examined all the processes to identify possible sources that could lead to odor emissions or the spread of dust. Novartis has taken air measurements and swab samples at other areas of the site and in the immediate neighborhood. All these measurements are available to the authorities. The Basel Air Hygiene Office has initiated air measurements in coordination with the DREAL.

Questions concerning safety of the population and environment

18. Are there any risks for the population?

Based on recent measurements and what we know today, the site has never posed a risk to people or the environment.

Novartis affirms that the cleanup work can be completed without posing any risk to the population or environment. Novartis took advantage of the halt to remediation work to implement improvement measures in cooperation with the authorities. Experts reviewed the entire clean-up process and worked on solutions with the aim of preventing dust and odor emissions.

After the selection of new remediation companies, work was taken up gradually over a period of around six months. Every stage was considered for possible impacts and, if necessary, optimized. This test phase was completed in June 2015. Regular operations began upon prior agreement between French and Swiss authorities.

Air quality will be continuously monitored. On the basis of the measurements obtained and what we know today, there is and never was at any point a risk to humans or the environment. The companies involved are committed to completing the remediation safely and without any risk to the population or the environment. The aim of the remediation is to reduce the residual concentrations of lindane by-products and other legacy contamination and thus to permit all possible follow-up use of the land. The fact that environmental protection and public health have the highest priority for Novartis is also shown by the halt to the remediation work, which is generating running costs.

19. What safety measures have been taken?

On the remediation site and in the adjoining area, regular air analyses and screening analyses are carried out for all possible substances as well as control analyses for known legacy contaminants. Further safety and precautionary measures include, for example, the fact that the excavation work is being carried out only under large sealed construction tents under negative pressure. In less contaminated areas, the soil is excavated exclusively under large extraction hoods with air filters, and the surface is also wetted with a film of a biodegradable water-binding polymer to avoid the formation of dust by binding it with the soil.

20. Does the remediation work put the groundwater and the Rhine at risk?

No. The remediation means the risk of lindane entering the groundwater or the Rhine will be permanently reduced.

21. What is being done with the demolition material and excavated soil?

Very weakly contaminated material is sorted right at the STEIH site (triage). Strongly contaminated material is placed directly into containers. The contaminated soil and demolition material is then transported to an accredited waste disposal company for incineration or thermal desorption. This process is stringently managed and controlled and is closely monitored by the authorities. This takes place with due consideration to ecological and sustainability criteria.

22. How can you be sure no secondary contamination and risk to the environment and population occurs when the contaminated material is carried away by river, rail or road?

There is no such risk, because extensive safety precautions and safety equipment are in place. For example special sealed containers are used, trucks are decontaminated, cleaned and constantly checked and the regulations and guidelines of the countries concerned regarding transport by rail, land and river and observed.

23. Concerned local residents are worried that vegetables and herbs grown in gardens or outdoor plants in the Kleinbasel region have been contaminated by the lindane dust. Is this the case?

We assure you that any health risk can be ruled out. As always, however, vegetables and salad leaves should be washed thoroughly before use. Food-related queries should ideally be addressed to the cantonal laboratory of the Basel Municipal Health Department.