Geologist faults cleanup proposal

Says chemical firm isn’t doing enough

By John Dyer
Globe Correspondent / November 10, 2011

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General Chemical Corp.’s plan for cleaning up its south Framingham property is not extensive enough to discover the full scope of contamination around the hazardous-waste handling facility, a consultant hired by the town’s Board of Health said last week.

Andrew Smyth, a geologist with TRC Cos. in Lowell, said General Chemical doesn’t intend to sink enough deep wells to see the extent of a plume of hazardous solvents that have been traveling southeast from its facility since the 1960s.

“You need to do a lot more testing,’’ said Smyth, who added that the plume is probably moving down a ravine that leads into wetlands, including Course Brook, but General Chemical isn’t testing the area. “They should be putting wells along that path.’’

Smyth spoke during a Board of Health hearing attended by about 100 people last Thursday at the Woodrow Wilson School, which sits next to General Chemical’s facility on Leland Street.

The hearing was the second in a series of meetings to review the company’s site assignment, or its local permission to operate the waste-handling business on the property. If the board revokes General Chemical’s site assignment, the company might have to shut down.

The general manager of General Chemical’s facility, Stephen Ganley, who attended the hearing, declined to comment on Smyth’s presentation. But he said the company would present evidence disputing Smyth’s findings.

Because the company hasn’t sunk wells throughout the area where the plume might have migrated, Smyth said, the extent of contamination is not known. Besides the school, the facility is next to homes and near a large condominium complex in a residential neighborhood in south Framingham.

Smyth submitted his presentation to the state Department of Environmental Protection, whose officials are reviewing General Chemical’s plan to clean up the plume. In August, after finding numerous violations at the site over the preceding year, the DEP ordered the company to outline a new cleanup plan and set aside funding for the work, or face closure.

Last month, General Chemical gave its plan to state officials and agreed to set aside $1.4 million for remediation. The DEP is reviewing the company’s plan as well as comments from Smyth and others, said spokesman Joe Ferson.

Smyth also said the plume could be perilously near homes on Prospect Street in neighboring Sherborn that use private wells, which require special protections. “There has been adequate time for the plume to travel to the town of Sherborn,’’ said Smyth.

Sherborn’s Board of Health chairman, Christopher Owen, said local officials have long known about the plume’s proximity to Prospect Street.

A few years ago the town placed monitoring wells in the area, he said, and Sherborn representatives have been attending the Framingham hearings to learn more. Tests have shown the drinking water is clean, but it is not clear whether the town needs to take additional steps, Owen said.

The Sherborn official largely agreed with Smyth’s comments that General Chemical’s plan isn’t ambitious enough, given the potential threat to drinking water supplies. “What we’d like to see are more wells, and maybe more testing of residents’ wells,’’ he said.

Owen also added that he was concerned about toxic chemicals leaching into Course Brook, which leads to other water bodies that feed Lake Cochituate. “Our largest concern is that creek down there,’’ he said.

In his presentation, Smyth also cited reports from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority that said officials had discovered traces of hazardous materials from General Chemical in the Sudbury Aqueduct, part of the agency’s water-delivery system running through the area. Chemicals have seeped through the aqueduct’s lining, he said.

Built in 1878, as large as 9 feet in diameter and running about 17 miles from the western suburbs to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, the aqueduct is an emergency pipe that has been used just once in the last 40 years - in 2010, when a leak in Weston shut down Boston’s main water supply, said MWRA spokeswoman Ria Convery.

Convery said that the authority had found low levels of contaminants inside the aqueduct in Framingham in tests as far back as the 1990s, but she said officials tested the water downstream and found the chemicals had been diluted to inconsequential levels.

Nearly 2 million Massachusetts residents were ordered to boil water from the emergency pipe, giving the area a stopgap during the crisis. The boil order was required because the emergency supply hadn’t gone through a treatment plant before it reached household taps. “It’s mostly about bacteria,’’ said Convery. The aqueduct can carry 90 million of gallons of water a day, she said. The MWRA system provides water to 48 communities across Greater Boston.

The town’s Board of Health is scheduled to resume its hearing at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Wilson School. Board members have also scheduled a meeting for Jan. 15.

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