Woburn Advocate, Jan 14, 2009

EPA gives Council update on contaminated site

Bayer and Pharmacia pay to remove chemicals

Woburn, MA - The federal government and two companies responsible for contamination of the Industri-Plex superfund site in North Woburn reached an agreement that paves the way for the second phase of the clean-up.
The consent decree describing the settlement was filed in U.S. District Court Nov. 24, and the EPA presented its details to the Woburn City Council in a special meeting Jan. 13.
The responsible parties, Bayer CropScience Inc. and Pharmacia Corp., agreed to implement and pay for a project to remove arsenic, ammonia and benzene from groundwater, surface water and sediments, at an estimated cost of $26 million. They will also pay $6 million to the EPA and cover its monitoring costs during clean-up, which could take five years.
The companies would rather design and oversee the project themselves because they believe that they could do it for less money, said Joseph LeMay, Industri-Plex project manager for the EPA.
The first phase of the reclamation covered 110 acres with a cap to contain toxins deposited over the course of a century by manufacturers of pesticides and glue. But the contaminants from buried piles of animal hides, source of the infamous “Woburn smell” in the 1970s, may be polluting the wetlands and ponds on a tract known as Operating Unit 2, south of the completed site.
“Right now we are gathering data. Flooding is our main concern,” said LeMay, noting that beavers and development have increased the standing water after storms.
The agency proposed a new two-cell treatment system in Halls Brook Holding Area Pond to keep chemicals from moving into the wetlands below, combined with dredging sediments. The first cell would aerate the water, introducing oxygen that would help break down the toxins. The second cell would be a submerged dam to keep contaminants in the lower depths of the pond, so that the upper layers and flood waters would be relatively clean.
“It’s not been truly tested, so we question whether it will really work,” said Kathy Barry, president of the Aberjona Study Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups from six communities with a stake in the quality of the Aberjona River that flows through the sight. The coalition’s mantra is, “Is it safe? Will it work?”
The proposed system is only a starting point, and the settlement lets the companies offer their own plan, subject to EPA approval. Barry said that having multiple engineers working on the problem increases the chance that they will find a solution that works.

Protecting Phase One
The EPA recommended two actions that the city should take to assure that the caps installed in the first phase remain in place.
Woburn now holds title of less than half the roads and rights of way within the Industri-Plex site. The EPA requests that the city acquire fee interest in the remainder, which it already maintains. The action would protect the roads long term.
Also, the city should foreclose on three parcels owned by Chestnut Hill Realty Trust that have been abandoned and lie within the most contaminated section of the capped land. The foreclosure would allow Bayer CropScience and Pharmacia to take responsibility for the land. Controlling the tracts would eliminate risk for the companies. By Linda Kush

For more information, visit:
The Aberjona Study Coalition:

update May 2012