Framingham used problem-plagued chemical company to dispose of waste
Framingham paid General Chemical Corp. and two affiliates about $77,000 to dispose of hazardous waste in recent years, including a period of time when local and state officials said the Leland Street facility was improperly handling toxic materials and residents were calling for the company to be shut down.
The town’s Board of Health is slated to resume its series of hearings on General Chemical’s operation at 7 p.m. Thursday at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, which is next to the facility. During a previous session, an expert hired by the town said the company wasn’t adequately cleaning up an underground toxic plume dating from the 1960s and 1970s that makes it one of the most polluted sites in the state.
Critics of General Chemical were dismayed that the Department of Public Works had hired General Chemical, Clean Venture Inc., and Cycle Chem Inc. for the town’s annual household hazardous-waste collections, which allow residents to dispose of old paint, batteries, pesticides, antifreeze, solvents, and other toxic materials that can’t go into standard trash.
“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” said Taryn Hallweaver, an activist with the Toxics Action Center in Boston, who has helped neighbors of the south Framingham facility organize protests against the company.
General Chemical and its two affiliated companies, which are based in Elizabeth, N.J., did not return calls requesting comment.
The Board of Selectmen’s chairman, Jason Smith, said there wasn’t necessarily a disconnect between the DPW and the Board of Health. While it might appear incongruous that the town had hired the controversial operation, he said, General Chemical is still a local licensed operator with expertise in getting rid of potentially dangerous substances.
“If they are doing what we need them to do, that’s great,” Smith said. But he added that the town’s use of General Chemical shouldn’t be construed as an official position for or against allegations that the company has been irresponsible in managing its business and the cleanup of its property.
“Just because they are doing a great job with the town doesn’t mean they aren’t failing in another area,” he said.
Framingham’s director of public health, Ethan Mascoop, said the town hadn’t done anything wrong by using the company if it was operating legally. The board, through its hearings on whether to revoke the company’s site assignment, is trying to determine whether that situation should remain the same, he said.
“The bottom-line view from the Health Department is that they are still validly licensed,” he said.
Framingham paid General Chemical, Clean Venture, and Cycle Chem a total of $77,300 to accept toxic materials from household collection days in 2005, 2006, 2009, and May 2011, according to invoices obtained via a public information request to the town by Globe West.
In 2007 and 2008, Framingham used Enviro-Safe Corp. of Lowell to handle the waste, for a total cost of almost $28,000, the documents said. The town didn’t hold a hazardous waste collection day in 2010. A 2012 date has yet to be scheduled. Officials didn’t have invoices from prior years readily available.
In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection fined General Chemical nearly $30,000 for improperly storing hazardous waste, dumping chemicals onto the grounds of its 2-acre property in Framingham, and other violations. The incidents weren’t the first on the site.
General Chemical sits on land that was an oil terminal in the 1920s. Solvents that had spilled on the property decades ago, before General Chemical owned the site, are now seeping under the south Framingham neighborhood, authorities say. General Chemical purchased three now-vacant nearby houses where residents discovered contaminated air, and the company has vowed to clean up the toxic plume, but its managers have sparred with state environmental officials over how much they should spend on the cleanup.
Some of the materials, including acids and cleaning solutions, were stored at General Chemical’s Leland Street location before being transported to other places for containment, said Mike Lavin, manager of the DPW’s solid waste and recycling operations. Other hazardous materials, including flammable items, were shipped to Clean Venture or Cycle Chem facilities in New Jersey, he said.
Donjon Marine Co. of Hillside, N.J., owns all three firms, according to Clean Venture’s website.
A Donjon spokesman declined to comment.
Lavin said the town manager at the time, Julian Suso, chose General Chemical and its affiliates based on costs and the availability of hazardous-waste storage sites that could accept the household discards. Selectmen didn’t have to vote on the payments, said Lavin, because General Chemical and its affiliates were vendors with preapproved contracts with the state.
Suso, who is now town manager in Falmouth, said General Chemical is a legal operation, and, because the company has a site in town, was often the cheapest available option.
He added that the company had been controversial for years, but since pollution on the site predates its ownership of the property, and the hazardous household materials were simply stored there before being moved to other locations, he and other town officials didn’t see why it shouldn’t be used.
“Are they licensed or are they not?” said Suso. “If they are licensed, we have a responsibility to the taxpayer.”
Sidney Faust, who leads the Framingham Action Coalition for Environmental Safety, formed by residents who want General Chemical to close its Leland Street operation, said he was unaware that the town had been using the company. He said he was shocked his tax dollars were going to the facility and its affiliates. The contracts give credence to sentiments within the neighborhood’s largely immigrant community that, outside of the Board of Health, local officials are sympathetic to the company, he said.
“I’ve heard rumors that the people in charge don’t want to shut down General Chemical,” said Faust. “They know the problem but they don’t want to do anything.”
Smith denied that anyone in Town Hall was sympathetic to the company. He supported the Health Board’s decision to examine the company’s permit, he said. “We’ll continue the pressure on General Chemical, and we won’t let up at all,” said Smith.
John Dyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.