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State offers to test Sherborn wells for signs of toxins from General Chemical in Framingham

Posted by Leslie Anderson  March 16, 2012 12:08 PM

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State researchers are offering to test the private wells of Sherborn homeowners who live near the General Chemical Corp. in Framingham to determine if a plume of toxins from the hazardous waste storage facility has reached residents’ drinking water.

The offer to test wells for free at 20 homes on Kendall, Coolidge, Meadowbrook, Perry and Prospect Streets in Sherborn was part of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s effort to determine if General Chemical has set aside enough money to fund a cleanup of the plume, said officials.

The cleanup of the two-acre property has come under greater scrutiny since the New Jersey-based owners of General Chemical elected to shut down the facility the middle of next month.

Despite the closure, the company is still responsible for cleaning up the plume of solvents, which date to the 1960s, before the current operators owned the site.

The plume is composed mostly of solvents formerly used in degreasing and dry cleaning.
Sherborn Selectman Paul DeRensis said nobody believes toxins have traveled a mile or two from General Chemical to the homes.

But state and local officials who have held discussions about the plume in the past agreed that now is a good time to test wells given that state researchers need to determine the extent of the underground contamination.

‘‘We don’t have any reason to believe that this plume of contamination has actually come into Sherborn,’’ said DeRensis. ‘‘I don’t want people to be alarmed. This is part of being proactive.’’

There are scores of homes on the Sherborn side of the town’s border with Framingham, but DEP only needs samples from 20 wells to collect sufficient data to assess potential pollution underground, said DeRensis. The DEP has sent letters to homes in the area that include consent forms to allow state researchers to test the wells.

Homeowners who return the forms will likely be tested on a first-come-first-served basis, said DeRensis. ‘‘We’re asking people to comply because out of that will come information and that information will better protect everyone,’’ DeRensis said.

He added that Sherborn already had monitoring wells at the town line that were periodically tested to make sure the plume hadn’t traveled close to any homes. ‘‘Those wells have not shown any detection,’’ he said.

Steven DeGabriele, the DEP’s director of business compliance, said he expected the tests to rule out the presence of chemicals in residents’ drinking water. That would allay people’s concerns while providing researchers with more information, he said.

‘‘There obviously has been a release of chemicals into the environment, into the groundwater in this facility,’’ said DeGabriele. ‘‘The whole idea of assessing a cleanup is understanding where those chemicals are and treating them.’’

DEP spokesman Joe Ferson said the agency expects to receive consent forms from residents over the next month. Testing could begin soon after, he said.

As part of its license with the state, General Chemical set aside $1.5 million to clean up the toxic plume. But during the Framingham Health Board’s hearing, town-funded consultants said the company would need to spend several million dollars to properly clean up the site.

The state is now studying whether the company has underestimated the cost of the job. If state researchers determine the cleanup will cost more than General Chemical expects, they could force them to set aside more funding.

The general manager of General Chemical, Stephen Ganley, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

General Chemical’s decision to close came after months of Framingham Board of Health hearings on General Chemical’s local permit to operate. The Framingham hearings stemmed from state inspectors citing the company for a series of violations in recent years involving mishandled chemicals.

At another hearing Thursday night, Board of Health members directed Town Counsel Christopher Petrini to clarify whether they had any jurisdiction over General Chemical’s cleanup, which is already regulated by the state.

Board members wanted to know whether they could prohibit or control when General Chemical uses power washing and sandblasting to clean the Leland Street facility, as the company has proposed to state officials. They feared the cleaning could generate clouds of vapor and dust that might harm neighbors and children at nearby Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.

‘‘This could be going on during the day when kids are out on the playground,’’ said Matt Torti, (cq) director of buildings and grounds at the Framingham School Department.

The board was also trying to discover whether Clean Venture, General Chemical’s sister company across the street, can park trucks and other vehicles on General Chemical’s property after the company closes.

Owned by the same New Jersey-based conglomerate, Clean Venture is a hazardous waste transporter. Under state rules, the company can temporarily store trucks carrying toxins on the property but can’t unload or move toxins between vehicles.

Board Chairman Michael Hugo said he and his colleagues would continue to pressure General Chemical to clean up the site. They intended to keep Clean Venture off the company’s property, too, he added.

‘‘They are the ones who are retreating,’’ said Hugo. ‘‘That weakens their position if at some point they decide to do a U-turn.’’

John Dyer can be reached at johnjdyerjr@gmail.com.

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