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Framingham residents incensed over General Chemical hazardous waste area

Posted by Your Town  April 5, 2013 07:02 AM

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Framingham residents and health officials took the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection and a contractor to task Thursday, claiming that the public has been given, at best, incomplete information, and at worst, inaccuracies, about the impact of the General Chemical Company hazardous waste site .

“We've come a long way in the last couple of years, but we haven't come far enough, quick enough,” said Michael Hugo, chairman of the town's board of health.

A draft Public Involvement Plan and update on conditions at the 2-acre former disposal site on Leland Street was held at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. The meeting was called after a petition was filed by members of the Framingham Action Coalition for Environmental Safety (FACES), calling for the plan.

Hugo said his board was “overlooked tremendously” by both Groundwater & Environmental Services, Inc. and the DEP, and information given in a joint presentation by both groups was “far from the whole truth.”

“There were many, many items omitted,” he said, comparing the presentation to a pair of gym shorts: “What they show is interesting. What they hide is vital.”

GES Project Manager Stefan Sokol said that the most concerning pollutants at and around the site are chlorinated volatile organic compounds. However, Hugo said the presence of Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid, was underplayed in the presentation.

According to GES, the liquid is an un-disolved solvent, and can sink deep into groundwater. Hugo was also unhappy that other pollutants at the site, including petroleum, freon, PCBs, heavy metals, and pesticides received little mention.

The New Jersey-based company announced in March 2012 that it was closing its sites, after complaints from Framingham residents and officials over possible health hazards in a vicinity that included the school where Thursday's meeting was held.

The property was developed in the 1920s by the Gulf Oil Corporation. General Chemical Company took over the site in 1960, and used it as a solvent storage and distribution facility.

The site had been subject to complaints by the Framingham Board of Health, which found barrels of improperly stored chemicals, contaminated water pumped outside from the basement, and possible structural problems with the laboratory floor. As a result, General Chemical was fined almost $30,000 by the DEP in 2010.

General Chemical is required to pay for the cleanup in and around the site. However, Nina Pickering Cook, an attorney hired by FACES, questioned whether General Chemical, which has closed the site and makes no revenue from it, has the funds to pay for it.

The company has promised the DEP $1.4 million for the cleanup effort, but Stephen Johnson, DEP deputy regional director, said it was too early in the process to know whether or not that amount would be sufficient.

Many in attendance complained of a lack of safeguards in areas that could be affected by pollutants from the site, including nearby wetlands, a drainage ditch, an emergency drinking water aquifer, the Century Estates condominium complex, and General Chemical's neighbor, the Woodrow Wilson School.

Cook complained that an abandoned house, purchased by General Chemical after it was contaminated by air emanating from the groundwater, constituted an “attractive nuisance” for children to play in and around. There was not padlock on the door or fencing around the house to keep kids away, she said.

Town Manager Robert Halpin said a request was made to the town to remove the structure, but regulatory hurdles prevented that. “What we need is an objective, data-driven discussion,” he said, regarding the house.

Other residents complained that children were also venturing into wetland areas adjacent to the condo complex, but neither the DEP nor GES had posted signs warning of contaminated water.

Andrew Smyth cited several concerns, and stated that, while General Chemical knew about the contamination as far back as 1992, the company did little remediation, and that groundwater monitoring wells were inadequate.

According to Karen Stromberg of the DEP, the final methods for cleaning up the General Chemical site has yet to be determined, but noted the process could take years.

Framingham residents wishing to comment on the draft public involvement plan should submit comments by April 24 to Stefan C. Sokol, LSP, Groundwater & Environmental Services, Inc., 3645 Littleton Rd., Suite 4, Westford, MA 01886, or call (800) 226-6119.

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