The General Chemical Corp. in Framingham is planning to close down next month, a move that surprised town officials who have raised concerns about pollution at the hazardous waste transfer facility and neighbors who for years have been calling for it to be shut down.
“I am very, very excited,” said Sydney Faust, who helped organize neighbors, mostly Brazilian immigrants, in opposition to the facility. “Our expectations were going down because there were a lot of boring hearings with a lot of talk, no action. Now I feel stronger. It’s surprising for me.”
In a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that was dated on Thursday, General Chemical President Michael Persico said the company would stop accepting hazardous waste at the end of the month and begin shuttering the company on April 16.
“We were told it was a business decision,” said DEP spokesman Ed Coletta, who didn’t have other details about the announcement.
The facility, which stores toxic waste before shipping it out of state for permanent disposal,
stands next to the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School . Toxins have been stored on the site since the 1920s, when it was a Gulf Oil terminal. It is located in the largely working class South Side neighborhood of Framingham, a stone’s throw from the town center and about four miles south of Route 9 in an area that has numerous former industrial sites.
Persico and General Chemical’s parent company in New Jersey did not return a reporter’s phone calls yesterday. About 35 employees work at the Leland Street facility.
While local and state officials repeatedly said the school was safe, residents often expressed worry about the safety of the children, who went to school within view of tall chemical storage tanks.
Since September, the Framingham Board of Health has been holding hearings to review General Chemical’s local permission to operate. The hearings stem from inspections in 2009 and 2010 when officials discovered employees pumping contaminated water onto open ground, mislabeling and improperly storing toxins and other infractions.
General Chemical paid about $30,000 in fines for the infractions. Over the years, the company has also purchased three homes near the facility when toxic vapors were detected in their interiors after heavy rains elevated the water table under the houses.
The facility handles around six percent of the hazardous waste in Massachusetts, accepting solvents, medical waste and other hazardous materials as well as nonhazardous waste like fluorescent light bulbs and car batteries, said Framingham Public Health Director Ethan Mascoop . Nine other facilities in the state accept the same material.
The company might be closing down, but it’s not done with the site, officials said.
Under an agreement General Chemical reached with the DEP last year, the company has set aside $1.5 million to clean up a toxic plume that is leeching underground from the property, said Coletta. The plume dates from the 1960s and 1970s, before General Chemical’s current operators owned the site, but the company still has the responsibility to clean it up, he said.
“They and their consultants would have to continue to assess what contamination issues are there and come up with plans to address that contamination,” said Coletta. “And they would have to do the work.”
Coletta added that General Chemical has also set aside $140,000 to decommission its building, including decontaminating its storage tanks and finishing other aspects of the shutdown, he said.
“This isn’t just going to be a haphazard closure,” said Coletta. “They have a plan they need to follow. We need to sign off on the final closure.”
Mascoop said the $1.5 million isn’t enough. He and residents would keep pressure on the company to devote more funds for a proper cleanup, he said.
“It is woefully low. It’s terribly low,” Mascoop said. “There is still a lot of work to be done. That neighborhood has suffered tremendously from environmental abuse. This is a real opportunity to make some changes in that community.”
Faust echoed Mascoop’s comments. Residents are frightened of the potential future health hazards posed by the toxic plume, he said. In recent months, they’ve been pessimistic about closing down the company, especially since many are immigrants who felt powerless as they observed the health board’s slow proceedings.
Now, said Faust, it will be easier to rally his neighbors to make sure the clean-up is finished correctly. “See, if you do something, something will happen,” he said. “If you get together and go to the hearings and fight for your rights, something will happen. It’s amazing.”