Shpack cleanup to be completed by 2012, US says

Radioactive waste removal to resume

The Shpack Superfund site is one of two landfills in New England found to contain radioactive waste. The Shpack Superfund site is one of two landfills in New England found to contain radioactive waste.
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / March 15, 2009
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The $73 million cleanup of the Shpack Superfund site - one of only two landfills in New England contaminated by radioactive waste - should be wrapped up by 2012, federal officials told Norton residents last week.

That would be more than 30 years after the contamination was discovered by a college student with a Geiger counter. Still, residents, who hadn't received an update from the federal government since the summer of 2007, are relieved to have an end finally in sight.

"Twenty-twelve sounds like a real good year to me," said Heather Graf, founder of a watchdog group called the Citizen Advisory Shpack Team. Graf said there have been 21 meetings between environmental officials and residents since cleanup discussion began. "You get worn down," she said.

Norton Selectman Robert Kimball agreed. "It's progressing and we're happy to see it finally moving ahead," he said, following a status meeting Tuesday with representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The Corps plans to restart its removal of radioactive waste from Shpack at the end of this month, following a winter hiatus, heading into its final 15 months on the job. After that, the EPA will step in and supervise cleanup of all the non-radioactive contaminants in the nine-acre landfill that spans the Norton and Attleboro town line.

"There should be no break in funding until we've completed the job," said Corps project manager Timothy Beauchemin. "Funding should not be an issue."

The federal stimulus package recently supplied the project with an additional $5 million, Beauchemin said. A total of $44 million in federal money will be spent on the cleanup of radioactive material, he said.

A break in funding in 2006 helped delay the work, along with problems with a surprisingly high water table and the discovery of three times the amount of radioactive waste originally estimated, Beauchemin said.

By the time the project is completed, he predicted, about 25,000 cubic yards of radioactive material will have been removed from Shpack, trucked to Boston, and transported by train to a licensed disposal site in Utah.

The EPA expects to begin digging by the spring of 2011. Funding for that phase will be handled by a list of "responsible parties," as part of a consent decree involving the federal government and businesses with past involvement in Shpack, filed in US District Court in late January.

The 14 parties will pay about $29 million toward the chemical part of the cleanup, according to EPA project manager Melissa Taylor. While Norton is on the list of responsible parties, since the town took over landfill ownership some years ago to make certain cleanup was done, it isn't being asked to come up with any cash. The town must simply provide access to the property, Taylor said.

The defendant list includes the City of Attleboro; Avnet Inc.; Bank of America N.A. (Trustee u/w of Lloyd Balfour); BASF Catalysts LLC (formerly known as Engelhard Inc.); Conoco Phillips Co.; Handy & Harman; Chevron Environmental Management Co. (for itself and on behalf of Kewanee Industries Inc.); International Paper Co.; KIK Custom Products Inc. (formerly known as CCL Custom Manufacturing Inc.; Town of Norton; Swank Inc.; Teknor Apex Co.; Texas Instruments Inc. and Waste Management of Massachusetts Inc.

In addition to the $29 million in cleanup costs, the responsible parties have agreed to pay $2.9 million for EPA expenses.

The consent decree is based on a scope of work developed for the site in 2004. Among the measures to which the parties agreed are preparation of design plans, excavation of contaminated soil and off-site disposal, restoration of wetlands, implementation of a surface, sediment and groundwater monitoring program, and the extension of Norton's municipal water system to two residential properties that abut Shpack.

Kimball said Tuesday his town is opposed to the water line extension because "we want to discourage people from developing that area."

Norton Town Manager James Purcell suggested the EPA give the money that would be used to extend the line (estimated at about $900,000) to Norton as a grant. The town could then purchase the two properties that would require the water line.

"All Norton residents would love to see the land deed-restricted from any kind of use," Graf added.

The EPA's Taylor said certain state environmental regulations require a water line to be run to the properties, since continued contamination in the groundwater would prevent residential wells from being drilled on them.

From 1946 to 1965, the Shpack Landfill accepted industrial and domestic waste, which contained inorganic and organic chemicals as well as radioactive waste. According to Beauchemin, the radioactive waste was the byproduct of a company doing contract work for the US Department of Energy. Texas Instruments later bought that company and inherited the cleanup responsibility, Beauchemin said.

The EPA put Shpack on the Superfund "National Priorities List" in 1986. Investigative work continued through the 1990s, but cleanup work did not begin in earnest until 2005.

Graf recalled an initial flurry of activity when the contamination was first found at Shpack. "Everybody descended on the site and then everybody left it again," she said. US Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat, helped write legislation that ultimately brought the Corps of Engineers to the site to handle the radioactive cleanup, Graf said.

Christine Legere can be reached at

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