2006-09-28 / Letters to the Editor

More about landfill safety

Protective standards can be illusory. What in 1983 was protective, proves in 2006 to have underestimated the problem. In 1983, the EPA called for land contaminated by a dye company in Massachusetts to be cleaned up under the first National Priorities List. In 1985 wetlands were ordered restored. In 1991 an attempt by the EPA to extract the pollutants failed. The amalgamation of pollutants had sunk to the bottom of the highly fractured bedrock ground water aquifer and into the bedrock fractures. In 1998, the contaminated plume was under evaluation and pumping solutions were researched.

In April 2006, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) reversed its first study that showed no cancer connection to the contaminants. The MDPH announced rare sarcoma cancers in five childhood friends. Three who died in their mid-20s were directly linked to the eastern wetlands, pond, river, and two lagoons at the "Hill" dye waste area. Sixteen types of cancers were linked to surface water exposure. Thirtyfour percent were rare cancers. Dye vaults improperly stored nor maintained, plus the illegal relocation of contaminates to the on-site landfill, exacerbated the ground water and surface water problems.

This past Thursday the EPA announced an unexpected environmental development. In 2006, years after the fact, the polluted ground water was polluting the air. The contaminant TCE, trichloroethene, has been in the town's ground water above maximum contamination limits but because the townspeople were on public water their health appeared to be protected. The National Academy of Sciences will soon change the amount of the contaminant TCE humans can be exposed to from 134 parts per billion to 43 parts per billion.

The town's highly fractured bedrock and high water table had transported TCE over a mile into the pond, waterfall and river, and all served to transport the contaminants. The air tested in the newly built Town Hall, in the police station, and 50 homes are now subject to new federal protection from volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are gaseous carcinogens escaping from the ground water. The EPA has designated $1 million dollars to install vapor mitigation systems into the structures. Soil and stone basements will have to be lined with cement otherwise, cracks sealed and sump pump openings addressed. Deeds may be attached.

Additionally, the EPA will again try to remove the contaminants. If the pumps fail, the ground water will stay contaminated. The EPA will wait for new technology to be invented to safely remove the contaminants.

The "Hill," which held the dye storage vaults and solid wastes in an unregulated landfill, and is now covered with an EPA multilayered landfill cap, is privately owned. The owners discuss building condominiums right near the cap and a Brownfield on the "Hill." Those in the audience with deceased family members, family members with cancer, those exposed to contaminants as children, and those affected by the newly regulated volatile organic compounds and ventilation system requirements listened as the EPA engineers stated they have only oversight over the land.

Landfills are alive in the sense microorganisms are always degrading what exists. Hot spots develop in landfills, as evidenced by periodic testing near or above maximum contamination limits. At one time landfills could be unlined, should be placed on the highest points of land and surrounded by 'less valuable land' - wetlands, as is our landfill. The Jamestown 11.97 acre landfill, bigger than Fenway Park, has existed for 76 years. Lot 47, which abuts the landfill, has not been tested enough to consider building on or near this site. TCE has been documented under federal maximum contamination limits in three Jamestown Landfill perimeter test wells.

Let this precautionary tale of changes in science, health studies and federal regulations guide us to err on the side of safety to protect our highly fractured bedrock, high ground water, and our wetlands that meander from the landfill to the reservoir. Our unlined landfill must be capped at the highest 2006 regulatory standards. Do not compromise the cap for any reason. Let's not ever need the EPA to intercede in our affairs. Let's not test today's limits of science in our decisions.

For additional information see www.epa.gov/ne/superfund/sites/ nyanza/254071.pdf

Ellen Winsor North End Concerned


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