Toxic Cleanup Planned at Old Dry Cleaner Site

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WILKES-BARRE -- An empty lot on Mayer Street in Wilkes-Barre used to be the site of an old dry cleaner. The building has been gone since the 1990s, but state environmental officials say lots of contamination was left behind.

"What was left behind was a lot of gasoline and lead contamination, mostly in the underground, in the soil," said Department of Environmental Protection Spokeswoman Colleen Connolly.

Jim Walsh has lived across the street for decades and remembers the dry cleaner Sanitary Leasing, but says he didn't know about the toxic lead and gas at the site.

"I never heard anything really. Truthfully, I was always suspicious though because of the gas tanks being over there," said Walsh.

The Department of Environmental Protection says it learned of the contamination after the owner abandoned the property. The DEP says the contamination is not affecting any nearby homes, but the site must be cleaned up before anything new can be built there.

"There's no owner to go after, so far DEP has spent about $176,000 of money from our funds," said Connolly.

Neighbor Melana Kalife says she knew the owner of the old dry cleaner. He has since passed away.

"I talked with him a few times, and he didn't seem to care, just did not seem to care. He said there was nothing he could do about it," said Kalife.

The DEP says it plans to begin cleaning the gas and lead fumes out of this lot sometime this summer, and it's something many residents are glad to hear.

"I'm happy to see they're working and fixing it up and hopefully making maybe homes or a parking lot or something," said Irene Stilp of Wilkes-Barre.

"We're going to lift the vapors of the gasoline and the lead out of the soil and release them from the ground," said Connolly.

When it's all done, the cleanup could cost $200,000 or more.

But that's a price Walsh says is worth it.

"Certainly it's a danger to our health and our properties and what have you," said Walsh.

But for now, neighbors are just waiting for cleanup to begin.