By Bill Kirk
---- — A man suing the town for dumping of toxic sludge on his property in 2010 now claims that the town’s water supply may also be contaminated.
James Berberian, of 2-4 Bancroft Road, went before the Board of Selectmen Monday night in an attempt to speak to town officials about what he said was a potential public health problem on his property and possibly in town water.
“There is a significant risk to human health,” he said, as a crowd of more than 50 people, some standing in the hallway outside the third floor conference room at Town Hall, looked on. “This report shows exposure and significant risk to the residents of Andover.”
As he held up a report done by a contractor working for the town, Berberian was gaveled out of order by the chairman as Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski attempted to talk over him and drown out his words.
“Are you aware of this report?” Berberian asked repeatedly. Selectmen ignored him and Stapczynski continued to speak about the item that was on the board’s agenda — financing of the Andover Youth Center (see related story). “It shows there is arsenic in the (Bancroft School) water tank.”
Eventually, one of the Selectmen called police and Berberian was told to stop speaking. Two officers showed up.
“They tried to shut me down and called the cops,” Berberian said. “I wanted to talk about the issues with Selectmen.”
Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli explained that Berberian couldn’t speak because last night’s meeting was a one-item agenda to discuss changes to the contract between Selectmen and the Andover Youth Foundation over financing of the teen center.
Berberian and others asked at the end of the meeting if the matter could be placed on the agenda for next week’s meeting. Vispoli said that was possible, but not guaranteed.
Several people gathered in the hallway after the meeting said they were there to get answers and to support Berberian.
“There is arsenic in the water supply and it was dumped near two schools,” said Kevin Doyle, of 311 Lowell St., Andover, referring to the Bancroft School and Phillips Academy. He said he is concerned about the health of three of his children who went to Bancroft School.
“I’m here to support James,” said Jerry Berberian, James’ father, who lives at 59 William St., Andover. “I’m here to support the facts. There’s arsenic in the water.”
His mother, Janet Berberian, said the problem could have been resolved a long time ago but was mishandled by the town.
“Had they done the right thing when it happened, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.
The town manager said he couldn’t comment on the case because it is in federal court.
When told that Berberian is claiming there may be arsenic in the town water supply, however, he said, “if he’s saying that, tell him to prove it. ... All those questions were answered years ago.”
The case goes back to a November 2010 incident when water department employees were cleaning out the 6 million-gallon water storage tank at the Bancroft School.
However, town workers were videotaped by Berberian dumping dark-colored water into leaking trucks and into a nearby storm drain. That drain flowed down Bancroft Road and onto Berberian’s property at the corner of South Main Street.
The brownish water contained dark sediment which ended up settling in a wetland on Berberian’s property. When that sediment was tested, it showed high levels of toxic metals, including arsenic, cadmium and nickel, among others.
The town attempted to clean up Berberian’s property, but he claimed that some of the toxic sediment remains and has even run downstream, onto property owned by Phillips-Andover Academy. He sued the town in federal court over what he said was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act for discharging contaminated water into a wetland. The case remains in federal court.
Several attempts to settle the case between the town and Berberian have failed. Just last week, the Board of Selectmen met in executive session to discuss a possible settlement. Berberian said he hasn’t heard back from the town since that meeting.
Monday night, Berberian held up a June 2012 report from Wilcox and Barton, an environmental services firm that did tests on Berberian’s property and in the town’s water tank at Bancroft.
According to the document, the results of those tests show that Berberian’s property is contaminated. “While an imminent hazard was not identified, a significant risk of harm to human health was identified,” the report said.
It went on to say that exposure to the contaminated mud in the wetland “identified a significant risk for ... cancer ... from exposure to arsenic.”
Berberian pointed out that in the same report, Wilcox and Barton say that samples taken from the bottom of the Bancroft water tank and in off-site wetland areas nearby show that the tank was the “probable source of elevated arsenic concentrations in the wetland.”
Shortly after that finding was made, a report was made to the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection that there was a release of hazardous materials into the environment.
Berberian said he just wants his property cleaned up.
“All I’ve ever asked for — I just want the town to clean up my yard, and they should clean up Phillips,” he said. The town has offered him a half-million dollar settlement agreement, which he said is unacceptable because it carries a gag order not to speak with the Department of Environmental Protection about any future cleanup at the site.
When asked about the possibility that arsenic is in the water supply, Stapczynski pointed to an Oct. 24, 2011 letter from engineering firm Camp, Dresser and McKee, which states that while there is sludge in the bottom of most water tanks, it doesn’t pose a threat to human health.
“In general, it is not uncommon for sediment to build up at the bottom of large water storage tanks such as the 6 million gallon Bancroft Tank,” the letter said. “Specifically, water moving through a tank of this size does so at a very low velocity; thus, the tank acts as a ‘sink’ collecting any solids and naturally occurring dissolved metals which fall out of solution from the water.
“Even with the presence of this sediment, it should be noted that water serving the Town is tested in accordance with all requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). This testing has consistently indicated that the Town of Andover’s drinking water meets all EPA and MassDEP drinking water standards.”