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State may close Framingham-based General Chemical plant for water contamination

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  September 2, 2011 02:12 PM

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The controversial years-long struggle between Framingham residents and local hazardous waste disposal plant General Chemical Corp. may be coming to a head.

The state Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday ordered the facility, which is located on Leland Street next to Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, to set aside $1.2 million to clean up an underground pollution plume affecting groundwater by Sept. 9.

If the company fails to do so, the department will suspend their operating license, meaning they would have to cease accepting hazardous waste on that day, and have any remaining hazardous waste out of the facility by Sept. 21.

“The $1.2 million is based on the company’s own estimate” to clean up the pollution, said DEP spokesman Joe Ferson.

Ferson said the state had not received a response from General Chemical as of Friday - three days after the DEP both hand-delivered and emailed the order.

“Since the issuance of this, which was August 31st, we have not received any additional response from the company in writing or by phone, but we think a positive response would be beneficial for everyone,” Ferson said, meaning he hoped the company would cooperate by the due date.

Attempts to reach company officials were unsuccessful.

The plant submitted a plan to the DEP in January outlining the work needed to purge the pollution, such as pumping certain chemicals into the site to get rid of the toxins causing problems, Ferson said.

In previous years, the Framingham Board of Health inspected the plant and found barrels of chemicals improperly stored, contaminated water pumped outside from the basement, and potential structural problems with a laboratory floor, resulting in DEP-issued fines for almost $30,000 in June 2010.

Local residents have also complained about the facility’s impact on their lifestyle, from family homes being bought by the company to concerns regarding the health risks posed to children attending school adjacent to the plant.

Framingham school officials have said that the pollution is not a threat to the students or staff at the school.

Framingham Board of Health director Ethan Mascoop said he has felt concern over the company’s impact on the town since he assumed his position in 2008.

Following the contamination discovery after the spring downpour in 2010, Mascoop has pushed board members to hold a hearing, currently slated for Sept. 19, that would investigate the town’s licensing and restrictions on the facility.

“If they meet the DEP requirements and stay open… we will be an active participant in the oversight of General Chemical, and the reason for that is because it is critical to protect the community, the neighborhood, and the children,” Mascoop said. “People have already suffered from the contamination, and have lost their houses as the result of General Chemical being there.”

The hearing would deal with whether the town should revise the plant’s license, leave it as-is, or rescind it altogether, Mascoop said.

Even if the plant fails to adhere to DEP regulations, dissolving the local hearing, Mascoop said the board will remain involved in the “long, long road to clean up the facility and contaminated area” by working with the DEP to enforce the pollution cleanup, which would continue as General Chemical’s financial responsibility.

“They can’t just walk away and say, ‘We’re going home,’” Mascoop said. “There’s a mess that needs to be cleaned up, and that needs to be cleaned up whether they stay or not.”

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