Chem activity: brownfields

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Questions for Brownfield Site
Pick one brownfield site from the references below. Using complete sentences, fully answer the following questions. You may have to investigate further, all the answers are not necessarily on the specific site on the references.

  1. Write a general description of the site.

  1. Identify the contaminants present.

  1. Identify the effects of the contaminants on the environment (land/water/plants/animals).

  1. How was the extent of contamination investigated?

  1. If you were doing this study, what would choose for your independent and dependent variables?

  1. Define the data collected during the investigation.

  1. Describe the site clean-up plans.

Mallory Hat Factory site (, [1999])


Contact: Alice Kaufman, EPA Press Office (617) 918-1064

For immediate release: October 6, 1999; Release # 99-10-10

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold a public information session tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1999, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Danbury City Hall, to discuss cleanup plans for the Mallory Hat Factory site in Danbury, Conn. EPA allocated about $2 million to remove asbestos and other hazardous substances from the site. EPA expects work to begin later this month.

Using a $200,000 EPA Brownfields grant, the city of Danbury inspected the site and found a dilapidated brick smokestack, friable asbestos in the building, and sludge trenches in the building that are contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead. The Still River that flows directly beneath the main building. These findings prompted the city to ask EPA for assistance in cleaning up the site.

EPA also conducted an investigation of the facility before allocating cleanup funds. As part of the cleanup, EPA will take down the smokestack, remove asbestos from inside the factory buildings, and remove and properly dispose of hazardous substances found in tanks and trenches, as well as in soils on the factory property.

"EPA's cleanup of the old Mallory Hat Factory will send the city down the home stretch toward redeveloping this site for economic re-use. We will continue to work closely with the city throughout the cleanup operations," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England administrator.

"The City of Danbury is pleased that our partnership with the EPA and our joint commitment to the health and safety of our community has facilitated this most important step toward the demolition of the former Mallory Hat factory buildings," said Mayor Gene F. Eriquez. "The demolition of the Mallory chimney will remove the immediate hazard that this unsafe structure places on our residents in this area. The safe removal of asbestos and asbestos-contaminated debris by the end of 1999 will facilitate the demolition of all the structures and allow us to clean up the soil and groundwater so that the property can be transferred back on to the tax rolls and returned to a productive re-use."

"I am delighted by the quick action of the Environmental Protection Agency. This cleanup is urgently needed as a matter of public safety, but will also have a very favorable long term pay off for the economic well being of downtown Danbury," said Congressman Jim Maloney (CT-05).

EPA's Brownfields program is part of a national commitment to revitalize abandoned sites where redevelopment has been slowed because of contamination on the property. The city's review of the site for potential Brownfields re-use was temporarily put on hold due to the hazardous conditions of the buildings and property. Once EPA's cleanup work is complete, the city will move forward with further evaluations of re-use options.

The 5-acre Mallory Hat Factory Site, originally owned by the E. A. Mallory Company, manufactured hats with fur pelts. The company operated from 1860 to1969, when it was sold to the Danbury Hat Company. In 1987, the Danbury Hat Company filed for bankruptcy.


Contact: Alice Kaufman, EPA Community Affairs Office, (617) 918-1064

For immediate release: March 14, 2000; Release # 00-03-10

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week completed a $550,000 hazardous waste cleanup at the Mallory Hat Factory site in Danbury, Connecticut.

During the five month cleanup EPA took down an unstable, 110-foot brick smokestack, removed approximately 4000 cubic yards of non-hazardous debris to reduce fire hazards in the abandoned factory buildings, and removed another 700 cubic yards of asbestos-containing building debris. Sampling results indicated that soils and trench materials on-site do not pose an immediate threat to public health.

"The cleanup work EPA did paves the way for a planned commercial revitalization of the property," said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Mindy S. Lubber. "This has been an impressive example of how environmental problems can be solved creatively when the resources of the local, state, and federal levels are pooled together."

"I am grateful to EPA for their investment in this Brownfields effort. It represents a return of federal tax dollars to our community," remarked Mayor Gene F. Eriquez. "Now we will begin the demolition and work to return this property to a productive use on our tax rolls, growing jobs, and sustaining our local economy."

"We have taken a piece of land that was once an environmental and economic burden on the City of Danbury and turned it into a new and safe property that will spur financial growth, produce tax dollars, and create new jobs for area residents," said Congressman Jim Maloney. "I am proud to have brought the City of Danbury and the Environmental Protection Agency together to cleanup the Mallory Hat Factory and renew this central Danbury neighborhood," Maloney concluded.

"I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to Mayor Gene Eriquez, who provided essential resources throughout the cleanup project," remarked EPA On-Scene Coordinator Mary Ellen Stanton. "It was a great pleasure to work with the city of Danbury, and I wish them much luck as they continue their revitalization project at the Mallory Hat Factory site."

Last summer, the city used a $200,000 EPA Brownfields grant to inspect the site, revealing hazardous site conditions that prompted the city to ask EPA for further assistance. Brownfields are abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by pollution. EPA's Brownfields grants are directed to the identification and assessment of these sites for development.

The 5-acre Mallory Hat Factory Site was originally owned by E. A. Mallory Company to manufacture hats with fur pelts. The company started up in 1860, and ended operations in 1969, when the factory was sold to the Danbury Hat Company. In 1987, the Danbury Hat Company filed for bankruptcy, which effectively ended hat manufacturing activity on-site. Mad Hatter Mercury Mystery

by Peg Van Patten
Communications Director
Connecticut Sea Grant

     "I'm investigating things that begin with the letter "M", said Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter. This Mad Hatter, from the children's tale Alice in Wonderland, gave a tea party in a surreal environment. Such disorientation has a firm footing in reality, however. Hatmakers over the past three centuries used mercury in their work, and some hatters experienced nervous disorders, odd behavior, and even symptoms of madness. But why were the hatters mad? Did the brim curlers sniff glue? No, what they sniffed was mercury.

      But the story doesn't end there. Mercury left from the hat industry, before its use was banned in the 1940's, has left a legacy still with us today in some parts of Connecticut.

      Johan Varekamp, Ph.D.

Johan Varekamp, George I. Seney Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has followed Carroll's Hatter's example by investigating mercury. When he and his students at Wesleyan University investigated cores of sediments taken at the mouth of the Housatonic River in western Connecticut, they found high levels of mercury. The source was a mystery. They traced the mercury back up the river by doing more sampling, finding ever higher concentrations, until they reached the source: the Still River in Danbury. They were initially surprised to find such high concentrations (less than the State identifies as dangerous, but close enough to cause concern should the mercury become concentrated.)

     What could have happened nearby, they wondered, to cause the phenomenon?

The Hat City's Past

      Danbury Connecticut has always been known as "The Hat City". It was the hat making capital of the world in the 19th century. At first the felt fur hats were made by hand in small shops. During the 1830's, more people were employed in hatmaking there than in any other trade. Some farmers were known to pull out a kettle, gather some furs, and hang up a hatter's shingle as a cottage industry in lean times.

     European hatters brought their trade with them when they emigrated to North America. It became such a successful industry that in 1731, King George II banned exports of hats from the colonies to benefit hatters in England. The city of Danbury had all of the necessary prerequisites for a successful hatmaking industry: abundant water, transportation, animal furs, and plentiful labor.

     Local legend says the first Danbury hatter might have been Zoe Benedict. Wool felt was already made in many parts of the world. But Benedict found a new twist. Being a busy New England Yankee, when he got a hole in his shoe, he plugged it with a scrap of rabbit fur. Later he discovered that pressure and perspiration had transformed it into felt. He experimented with fur felt, shaping large pieces into hats on his bedpost. His shop opened on Main Street in 1780, making beaver hats at the rate of three per day.

   Business boomed, because everyone then wore hats! Hats were indicators of gender, occupation, social status, season, interests, and personality. Abraham Lincoln's famous stovepipe hats were made of beaver felt, and may have been made in Danbury. Hatmaking spread to a smaller degree to other towns in the state. Danbury was burned by British troops in 1777, during the American Revolutionary War, but another revolution, this time Industrial, brought hatmaking back with a vengeance. With mechanization, factories sprang up.

     At the peak of the industry, five million hats a year were produced in 56 different factories in Danbury. A process called "carroting" was used in the production, but it had nothing to do with vegetables. Carroting involved washing animal furs with an orange-colored solution containing a mercury compound, mercury nitrate.

    The colorful solution facilitated the separation of the fur from the pelt and made it mat together smoothly. The fur was then shaped into large cones, then shrunk in boiling water and dried many times before final shaping, smoothing, and finishing. Workers would often be exposed to mercury vapors in the steamy air. Many hatters with long-term exposure, particularly those involved in carroting, got mercury poisoning.

     Mercury poisoning attacks the nervous system, causing drooling, hair loss, uncontrollable muscle twitching, a lurching gait, and difficulties in talking and thinking clearly. Stumbling about in a confused state with slurred speech and trembling hands, affected hatters were sometimes mistaken for drunks. The ailment became known as ³The Danbury Shakes². In very severe cases, they experienced hallucinations.

    "Mad as a hatter" became a common term for someone experiencing severe mental problems. Some hatters eventually died of mercury poisoning. In 1934, following intense objections from hatters¹ labor unions, a major scientific study was performed and documented mercury poisoning in hatters. Processes to mat felt that did not include mercury were developed, and by 1943 all use of mercury in hatmaking ceased. Processes to mat felt that didn¹t include mercury were developed.


 "Sea of Hats", circa 1919, courtesy of the Danbury Historical Society.   

     From 1950 to 1960, hats declined in fashion as styles changed, and remaining factories began to move to other locations. The late President John F. Kennedy is thought to have contributed to the decline of hat wearing, as the "first hatless U.S. President" although the First Lady certainly did her part to promote the pillbox style. One of the last big factories to leave Danbury was the Mallory Factory, which had its heyday in the mid-1800's. By 1960, though, it had combined with several other large manufacturers: Lee, Stetson, and Disney. (Stetson was and still is well known for making State Troopers' hats, and Disney --well, you know.) Thus, the hats are gone (though they say you can still find the old beauties at yard sales and flea markets in the area).

The Legacy Lives On

Unfortunately, a hazardous legacy remains. After learning about the Danbury hatmaking history, Varekamp sampled surface mud surrounding the former Mallory Factory, and found very high mercury levels still there­67,000 parts per billion (ppb), compared to a state cleanup standard of 20,000 ppb.) A nearby park where children play had levels of 25,000 ppb. Typical levels elsewhere are around 400-600 ppb. Much of the mercury has found its way to the nearest rivers, particularly the Still River, where it can accumulate in fish.

     The mercury has dissipated and sunk into the sediments, but the Still and Housatonic Rivers are both prone to catastrophic flooding. Varekamp says severe storms such as the memorable hurricanes of 1938 and 1955 stir up river sediments, remobilizing buried contaminants. The sediments and their mercury burden can be transported into Long Island Sound. "It's only a matter of time before another major hurricane happens, and flushes out more mercury." Varekamp says. Varekamp's research is funded by Connecticut Sea Grant and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.


A FEW, SELECTED REFERENCES. (You are encouraged to explore on your own.)


  1. Danbury (Ball & Roller Bearing Company)

  2. Danbury (Northeast Utilities))

  3. Ledyard (Pfizer)

  4. Redding (Gilbert & Bennett)


  1. Worburn (Wells G & H)



  1. Bunker Hill





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