Worcester Telegram and Gazette Staff
Posted Aug. 29, 2015
|Worcester Telegram newspaper of August 30, 2015.|
Front page article about contamination at Framingham
Irving Street site owned by EverSource.
Home to several thriving businesses, it was once the site of an 1800s-era manufactured gas plant where the process left toxic byproducts: oil, coal tar, PCBs, cyanide, petroleum hydrocarbons and many other hazardous chemicals.
A portion of that site was sold to a local businessman who is now feeling the sting of hazardous pollution. An Auburn man is suing a company he worked for at the location.
The problems have surfaced because, instead of being disposed of properly, the deadly sludge was used as fill in the wetlands, or buried on the property, according to Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection records.
Unlike the site of a similar manufactured gas plant on Quinsigamond Avenue in Worcester, where trained hazardous waste workers carefully excavate and process toxic substances for disposal in a special out-of-state landfill, workers here go about their business without regard to the lurking toxins.
In June, DEP ordered the landowner, Eversource, New England’s largest power company, formerly named NSTAR, to find out exactly what contaminants are present, how extensive they are, and to submit a plan to clean up the 22-acre Framingham site. The new order resulted from a 2014 audit by DEP of NSTAR’s compliance with previous orders to assess the property for toxins.
In a notice of noncompliance on June 12, DEP told the power company that studies filed by GZA GeoEnvironmental, Eversource’s licensed site professional, “do not demonstrate that the nature and extent of contamination at the Site have been adequately defined, that the sources of contamination have been sufficiently identified and controlled or that the risks to receptors have been adequately evaluated.”
Essentially, DEP believes GZA did not do a thorough job assessing the site, once the home of the Old Colony Tar Co.
In the 26-page DEP document, numerous violations are listed.
There are references to analytical samples “not collected” in key areas. Daily commercial business activity is a problem.
“According to GZA, groundwater monitoring efforts have in part been hindered by the day-to-day operations of the current commercial activities at the Site, including the obstruction and/or destruction of various monitoring wells.”
Buried pipes from the antiquated operation raised concern citing a “failure to adequately assess migration pathways,” in reference to toxins possibly leaving the site and reaching nearby homes.
“Oozing/flowable tar” was noted, as was a violation saying the utility failed to properly estimate exposure danger to people working on the site, and to trespassers. The DEP also cited Eversource with a “failure to demonstrate that a condition of no substantial hazard to the environment exists.”
Although the DEP said some remediation was done several years ago by NSTAR, it was not done in the “heavily impacted southern wetlands.”
As in Worcester, there is evidence the 1800s-era structures and piping are buried on the site.
In 2010, 2,400 tons of contaminated soil were removed, according to Eric Worrall, DEP’s northeast regional director. After that, NSTAR sought a “temporary solution,” which was terminated by the June audit.
That “temporary solution” had given NSTAR several years to evaluate the property and perform limited cleanup under the supervision of GZA, the licensed site professional. Edmund J. Coletta Jr., DEP spokesman, said his department does not have adequate staffing to oversee the many waste sites in the state so it leaves the task to licensed site professionals. The DEP assumes whatever takes place on the property is appropriate and legal so the agency does not need direct oversight.
Now, the utility is ordered to do more testing and give the results to DEP. By July 2017, it must submit a permanent or a temporary solution to contain or clean the fouled property. In the near term, the utility submitted a scope of work report to detail the additional testing that will be needed.
That is not soon enough for Sidney DeBello, who owns Wellesley Trucking at 360 Irving St. Mr. DeBello’s property was once part of the parcel now owned by Eversource.
Noxious coal tar seeps from the ground behind his company’s garage where he parks his fleet of trucks. Walking through the lot with a reporter recently, he said, “This is the Band-Aid they put on it,” referring to 85 cubic yards of loose asphalt millings that Eversource dumped on the area where the latest coal tar seeped to the surface.
Mr. DeBello bought his property 30 years ago from John Glynn. The land was part of the larger tract occupied by the gas plant. Mr. Glynn promised DEP he would clean up the property, but never did because he could not afford it. As a result, NSTAR bought the property in 2008 because DEP determined NSTAR was the responsible party as the successor company to previous owner, Commonwealth Gas.
Mr. DeBello considers his property worthless because of the toxic mess he knows is just below the surface. “I wouldn’t dig one foot here. I know what I’d hit and I won’t hit the lottery,” he said, pointing to the ground.
“They (NSTAR) told me in 2008 it would be clean by 2010. Nothing ever happened,” he said.
Mr. DeBello recently picked up some of the oozing coal tar near his trucks, put it in his office and called DEP. The next day a DEP worker and someone from Eversource came to his garage, took it and told him he should not touch it because it contains cyanide.
“Boy, that stuff stinks,” he said.
A DEP document in July states that Mr. DeBello told DEP workers that “he had to purchase new work boots for his employees when the soles became covered with tar.” The same document said the DEP worker who met with Mr. DeBello “observed tar weeping through the gravel/ground surface at two locations (a tar bubble in one area and tar globules in a second area) in the main lot where company trucks utilized for transporting the roll-offs are parked at the location where the tar bubble was observed.”
He has asked NSTAR repeatedly to pave his lot, but he said it refused, saying it would be too expensive.
Eversource spokesman Michael Durand said in an email to a reporter last week that the utility is “addressing remediation options at the Wellesley Trucking site separately” from the possible removal of a coal tar tank later this year at 350 Irving St. He also noted the “temporary cap” placed on Mr. DeBello’s parking lot.
In an interview last week, DEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg said Eversource will be required to clean Mr. DeBello’s property.Wasn't the property now NSTAR's since 2008, not DeBello's?“From the department’s standpoint, our requirement would be that the responsible party has to clean up contamination wherever it is found.” cq
Mr. DeBello worries about the fate of his business during any remediation work that could involve digging deep into the property to reach where the coal tar has migrated. He is also frustrated by Eversource.
“They would not return my calls. I got no answers,” he said last week.
One of the workers on the adjacent property in 2012, who said he had no idea of the contaminants there, was Howard Garshman, 59, of Auburn. In a lawsuit he filed in 2014 against NSTAR in Middlesex Superior Court that is pending, he alleges NSTAR should be held liable in connection with the kidney cancer he was diagnosed with, because of its negligence and gross and reckless conduct.
He worked daily for about five months on the site, often covered with soil and coal tar from the ground while he was yard manager for Landscape Depot, one of the many businesses leasing property there.
Mr. Garshman says he was often covered with a slick, dirty residue, had no access to water for cleaning the grime from his skin and was never warned by the owner of Landscape Depot, John Mullen, about any hazardous substances on the property.
According to court documents in the complaint, Landscape Depot runs a composting facility at 350 Irving St. and makes various mulch products using debris, dirt, stumps and vegetation on the land. Different areas of the property are assigned for dumping various material “ranging from metal pipes to railroad trestle nails.”
The complaint says, “The dirt and loam products are later either sold to the public as ‘all natural' topsoil, 'Our own Mother’s Nature’s … organic compost.' ”
In the spring, the business buys hemlock, pine and spruce bark from various suppliers and then stores the bark on the property. The storage piles, including topsoil and compost, “are situated directly on top of an extraordinarily hazardous coal tar lagoon where the 26-year-old macadam and bituminous pavement has cracked, ripped, been continuously sliced through by chop saws, vented by heavy wheel loads, grinders, excavators and trucks."
As a result, the complaint alleges the mulch piles absorb and mix with the contaminated soil and surface water, which "contain vast concentrations of extraordinarily hazardous coal tar.”
Mr. Garshman alleges NSTAR knew about the operation and its hazards, and still allowed Mr. Mullen to sell the mulch as “pure,” “Kid Safe Play Ground Mulch” and “EnviroMulch.” The latter was described as “environmentally friendly triple ground blend of native hard and soft wood fibers composted to produce a rich, black organic mulch.”
The EnviroMulch, Mr. Garshman asserts, is made from untested, offsite wood debris “which turns black due to the numerous combustions that occur while the pile is composting in a pool of groundwater, surface water replete with arsenic and free cyanide” and mixes with the coal tar from the lagoons.
As part of the June DEP order, testing of the products will be required at Landscape Depot. There is no plan to do health testing of employees at businesses on the property.
The June Notice of Audit Findings says, “Furthermore, since a number of businesses operating at the site store landscaping materials (loam, mulch, woodchips decorative stone and brick) and firewood for resale, the stockpiling of these materials needs to be evaluated for the purposes of cross-contamination and any risk(s) that could be posed to the ultimate users of the materials.”
However, testing ordered by DEP has not begun because DEP must still approve the submitted scope of work by NSTAR’s licensed site professional.
In a recent telephone call, Landscape Depot owner John Mullen declined to comment. After a Framingham Board of Health meeting last Monday night, however, Mr. Mullen said his mulch has been tested and is “fine.”
The Telegram & Gazette requested a copy of the test results from Mr. Mullen but has not received them.
In a letter to the Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals July 13, Mr. Mullen’s lawyer, Joseph M. Antonellis, of Milford, wrote, “Additionally, at the suggestion of the Board, and the Board of Health, all mulch piles have been placed on top of the existing asphalt.”
After the Monday meeting, with the lawyer by his side, Mr. Mullen reiterated all the piles are on asphalt.
However, in an interview last week, DEP’s Paul Locke, acting assistant commissioner of waste site cleanup, said not all mulch piles were on asphalt and some product was in direct contact with the soil.
As of July 30, Mr. Locke said, “some is still on soil.”
In a December 2014 deposition of a Landscape Depot worker, half of the mulch product was reported to be on soil. And in an April 2015 deposition of Mr. Mullen in a lawsuit he filed against Mr. Garshman alleging libel, interference and defamation in Worcester Superior Court, in response to a question about the location of mulch piles, Mr. Mullen stated “three quarters of the material is” stored on unpaved areas. His lawyer, though, interjected and said Mr. Mullen did not understand the question. Mr. Mullen then went on to say some mulch may be stored on dirt, but estimated 85 percent of his product is on asphalt.
The product has been sold for 15 years to residential and commercial customers for flower beds and gardens at several locations in Central Massachusetts, in addition to Framingham and Walpole. Landscape Depot has retail locations in Westboro, Milford and Sutton.
Not mentioned in previous GZA filings was the presence of asbestos in the soil, according to the DEP Amended Notice of noncompliance from June 12. The DEP report cites asbestos sampling done in August 2004 by FLI Environmental for Groundwater Environmental Services, Inc. “on behalf of Mr. John Mullen of Landscape Depot, Inc.” The sampling found asbestos in various locations on the property.
Earlier this year, WRTA officials and cleanup workers were surprised to find buried asbestos at the Quinsigamond Avenue MGP site in Worcester. It was determined that old buildings with miles of asbestos insulated pipes were buried on the property instead of being removed properly in the 1960s.
While many of the same contaminants are carefully excavated, treated and shipped by rail off of the Worcester site, soon to be a Worcester Regional Transit Authority maintenance facility, DEP officials were asked last week why the taxpayer cleanup of the Worcester site is different from the Framingham site.
DEP’s Mr. Locke noted, “Part of the difference with what is happening in Worcester, because of the proposed use for the property, construction had to begin and people started digging into capped land and below the surface. So as you start digging in Worcester you have to manage that safely. For the Framingham site, as with many of the coal gasification sites, they pose no risk to the public in the current state because much of contamination is in the ground, capped and covered. The biggest difference is in Worcester digging into the material. Activities on the surface are not leading to any exposure,” he asserted.
But Mr. Garshman contends much more is known about the Worcester site than Framingham. The areas in Framingham where coal tar is bubbling to the surface “are in use daily with no warning or protection from exposure” for workers and the public.
He added, “We also know that the chemicals are migrating off site into the Beaver Dam Brook and abutting residential property.” That was discovered by the DEP during their audit.
He notes there is no restriction on the use of the Framingham property, while DEP placed an AUL on the Worcester site. An AUL (Activity and Use Limitation) defines allowable and prohibited use of a property.
“The key point we know is Worcester was being used under an AUL before the WRTA purchased it, therefore it was routinely monitored which the records confirm,” Mr. Garshman notes.
Framingham has been in continuous use without an AUL since 1982 and from 1982 until 2008, it is unknown what was dug up or disturbed, he said.
The Framingham property was built on a peat bog and the water level is near the surface, according to DEP records. Daily use by heavy equipment creates a more imminent risk for exposure, Mr. Garshman argues.
“Framingham is an environmental health and safety disaster,” he said, adding that the site should be shut down to “leave it dormant until the experts clean it up or secure it forever.”
But whether the Irving Street site is ever cleaned may depend on the cost. In Worcester, at least $15 million of taxpayer dollars are being used for the cleanup. In New Bedford, site of a similar coal gasification plant, DEP determined “the cost to clean it up is prohibitive.”
When asked last week about the utility’s plans for the Framingham site, Mr. Durand said, “Last month, we confirmed for you that we filed a new scope of work document with the DEP for Framingham. We're still in the process of getting estimates based on the new assessment required by DEP, so we have no new information to add at this time.”