EPA to remove toxic sediment from Souhegan River

MILFORD – Most of the focus of the Fletcher Paint Superfund cleanup has been on the Elm and Mill street sites where contaminated soil is being trucked away for disposal. But contaminated river sediment is also an issue. A 2011 assessment by the federal Environmental Protection Agency determined there is an elevated risk to human health from exposure to material from the bottom of the Souhegan River.

The EPA wants to remove about 2,000 cubic yards of the contaminated sediment from a third of an acre of the river adjacent to the Elm Street portion of the site. Work is scheduled to begin this summer. A public hearing about this phase of the cleanup will be held in the Milford Ambulance Service facility on Elm Street at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 15. According to an EPA fact sheet, four alternatives were evaluated, and complete sediment removal – at a cost of $2.8 million – was the preferred option. General Electric Co., which had arranged with Fletcher to store PCBs on the site, is paying for most of the cleanup. The other options were doing nothing and shor- term controls, such as fishing advisory signs, to minimize exposure to the sediment and prevent fish consumption. The third option involved capping some of the sediment and removing other sediment where contamination was confined to the surface.

The spot on the river is directly across from a woods trail that is popu­lar walking trail in warm­er months and leads to the bridge connecting the Boys & Girls Club to Keyes Memorial Park. EPA proj­ect manager Jim Brown said he doesn’t anticipate any significant restriction to trail access.

"The exact means and methods that will be used to remove the sediments from the river have not been developed," Brown said in an email. "A de­sign for the sediment re­moval will be completed over the next few months. Maintaining full public access to the trail will cer­tainly be a major consid­eration during the design process."

The river sediment is contaminated with poly­cholorinated biphenyls (PCBs), man-made chemi­cals that were banned in 1979. According to the EPA, they cause cancer in animals and are a prob­able human carcinogen. The source of the pollu­tion was many years of storage at the manufactur­ing and retail facility on Elm Street and at a stor­age facility on Mill Street.

The site was put on the EPA’s National Priorities List in 1989 after contami­nants were found in the nearby Keyes Municipal Well.

A total of 30,000 cubic yards of material will be taken from the two sites, with about 1,500 truck­loads full of hazardous materials taken away and another 1,500 truckloads of fill eventually brought in.

The soil containing haz­ardous materials will be transported to Indiana, going by truck and rail from Nashua. Nontoxic soil will be taken to a li­censed site in Rochester.

All trucks will head west on Elm Street to avoid downtown Milford.

There is a 30-day com­ment period for the sedi­ment project that goes through March 19. A copy of the engineering evalu­ation and cost analysis is available in the reference section of the Wadleigh Memorial Library.

Comments can be sub­mitted by mail to Jim Brown, project manager, U.S. EPA, 5 Post Office Square, Boston, MA 02109.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 6733100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.