'A Civil Action' River to Be Cleaned at Superfund Site

WOBURN, Massachusetts, March 3, 2008 (ENS) – Dredging of the Aberjona River and off-site disposal of contaminated sediments are included in a $31 million settlement agreement reached Wednesday between two companies and the federal government to handle cleanup at the Industri-Plex Superfund Site in Woburn, 12 miles north of Boston

The Pharmacia Corporation, a successor to the Monsanto Company, which manufactured chemicals at the site, and Bayer CropScience Inc., a successor to Stauffer Chemical Company, which manufactured glue products at the site, must address soil, sediment, groundwater and surface water contamination at the site.

The Industri-plex site is a 350 acre property containing two branches of the Aberjona river, streams, ponds, and wetland areas. Contamination at the site was the subject of the film, “A Civil Action,” which documents the lawsuit filed by families who had children with leukemia against three companies responsible for contaminating the water.

The settlement agreement clears the way for work to begin cleaning up contamination at the site under the oversight of the U.S. EPA. The site is primarily contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic, as well as ammonia and volatile organic compounds such as benzene.

Some redevelopment has already
taken place at the Industri-plex
Superfund site. (Photo
credit unknown)

“This marks the beginning of a new chapter at the Industri-Plex Superfund Site,” said Ira Leighton, deputy regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “The settlement agreement ensures that the site, including portions of the Aberjona River, will be cleaned up for the benefit of the community.”

“We look forward to working with the settling parties and the community over the next several years to implement the site’s cleanup,” Leighton said.

Chemical and glue operations occurred at the Woburn site for more than a century, from approximately 1853 to 1969. The Aberjona River was known to be contaminated as early as the mid-1800s.

In 1922, the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife released a photoessay of 150 photographs documenting contamination the entire length of the Aberjona River. In 1956, the Aberjona River Commission studied and released a report documenting both point and nonpoint sources of pollution in the Aberjona River Watershed.

During the 1970s, the property was purchased for development of a shopping mall and an industrial park, which met with community resistance as the extent of contamination was revealed.

The developer had permission from the state agency responsible for hazardous waste at the time to excavate and consolidate material on the property. In doing so he built a pile of animal hides and wastes, commingled with soils containing arsenic, chromium, and lead, which is the size of a football field and 40 feet high. The pile sits in a wetland area adjacent to two ponds.

And in 1982 the EPA released the results of a study of extensive ground and surface water contamination in the Aberjona River Watershed.

The Industri-Plex site was added to the national Superfund list in 1983 due to soil, sediment and water contamination from heavy metals including arsenic, ammonia and volatile organic compounds such as benzene.

This new phase of the cleanup work initiated by the settlement with Pharmacia and Bayer CropScience will include dredging and off-site disposal of contaminated sediments. The companies must establish institutional controls to restrict contact with contaminated soils, the groundwater and the sediments.

Workers will construct wetlands to compensate for wetlands impacted by the cleanup, and finally the companies must conduct long-term monitoring of the groundwater, surface water and sediments to ensure that cleanup measures continue to protect human health and the environment.

The comprehensive cleanup costs are estimated to be approximately $25.6 million. In addition, the settlement calls for the settling parties to pay for all future federal oversight expenses and recovers $6 million in past response costs incurred by the federal government at the site.

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