Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 21, 2013

Town hits back on tainted sludge, water charges

New report asserts 'no significant risk to human health'

By Bill Kirk

---- — Local officials, backed by an engineering report, are hitting back at property owner James Berberian’s allegations that the town failed to clean up his Bancroft Road property and may also have contaminated the water supply.

Town attorney Tom Urbelis spoke at last week’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, quoting extensively from a report by engineering firm CDM-Smith, which states that contrary to what Berberian has said, there is no risk to human health on his property.

“An imminent hazard does not exist at the 2-4 Bancroft Road site,” says the report, which was filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection after a similar report by the town’s consulting engineers as rejected last year.

“A condition of no significant risk to human health exists” at the site, the report sags.

Urbelis cited the report in response to allegations by Berberian that in November 2010 when town workers dumped toxic sludge onto his property, they failed to clean it up adequately.

Berberian claims that after the dumping of the silt that collects on the bottom of water tanks, there was a large area of wetland on his property that was contaminated.

He said the town sent a vacuum truck to clean up the sludge, but only a portion of the material was removed.

The rest, he said, remains on the site and is actually migrating downstream onto property owned by Phillips Andover Academy.

But the 90-page report released Nov. 7 by CDM-Smith asserts that the contaminated material has been removed and that whatever contamination is left in the wetland is from other sources.

“Based on the remedial activities conducted in the wetland, all sources of metals associated with the sediment released from the Bancroft Road water tank have been eliminated or controlled” in accordance with state law,” the report says.

Instead, the toxic material remaining in the wetland, which contains traces of lead and arsenic, among other substances, is from adjacent roadways and runoff from an old apple orchard, it says.

“There is a separate condition in the wetland unrelated to the release of sediment from the drinking water tank,” according to the town’s report.

The Nov. 7 report quotes a 2012 CDM-Smith report stating that “overall, the report concluded that ... the tank bottom sediment was not a source of the elevated metal concentrations in the wetland. The report further concluded that ... sources of the elevated metals in the wetland were consistent with sources associated with vehicle traffic along South Main Street and former orchards in the drainage area of the wetland.”

Urbelis said that not only does the CDM-Smith report show that the material in the wetland is not the responsibility of the town, it indicated that the material still left on the site is not hazardous to people who may be walking by.

“Two imminent hazard evaluations were completed for the wetland on behalf of the town,” the report says. “Mass DEP reviewed these evaluations and concurred with the conclusion that an imminent hazard condition is not present for likely human receptors at the wetland.”

The report further says, “For a resident in contact with both sediment and surface water in the (area’s) wetland, the overall cumulative risk is well below ... cancer and noncancer risk limits.”

Berberian said last week that his team of experts is reviewing the town’s engineering report.

He said he hadn’t read the entire report, but that it looked very similar to a previous report filed by the town that was rejected by the DEP.

Officials: No issues with water supply

Meanwhile, town officials continue to deny Berberian’s allegations that the sludge that was taken out of the bottom of the Bancroft water storage tank may have somehow gotten into the town’s water supply.

Acting Public Works Director Chris Cronin said during an interview last week at the water plant that while he “can’t stop what people are saying, if he (Berberian) is saying that the water in the distribution system is unsafe, I’m saying it’s untrue.”

Morris Gray, the superintendent in charge of the water distribution system, said that while material does settle at the bottom of the town’s water storage tanks, it doesn’t get into the water supply.

“The outlet for the tank is higher than the floor,” he said. “The muck precipitates out and settles at the bottom. We tested for arsenic recently. None has been detected every time.”

When the Bancroft tank was cleaned in November 2010, which is what led to Berberian’s lawsuit, it was the first time it had been cleaned since it was built in 1974.

Gray said that since Berberian sued, the town has stopped cleaning out the water supply tanks.

“It was a conscious decision to stop until this gets ironed out,” he said. In addition to Bancroft, the town has water holding tanks at several other locations throughout town, including Prospect Hill, Wood Hill and at the water treatment plant itself.

Alan Carifio, the town’s chief chemist and water lab director, said tests are done at the plant every day and frequently in the distribution system.

“We have quarterly, monthly and daily testing, and testing every 15 minutes,” he said. “We are so heavily regulated it’s ridiculous.”

Urbelis said the water in the Bancroft tank was not tested while it was being cleaned.

“There was no need to take out samples when they were cleaning it,” he said. “They didn’t see any need to. They were cleaning out the goop on the bottom. They had never cleaned it out. They knew it should be cleaned. They didn’t know what was contained in it until a year later when Berberian did some tests and his (engineer) notified DEP.”