#cleanupgoals: Edible fish, swimmable water

MILFORD – Fish that is safe to eat and water safe to swim in – those are the goals of a new EPA cleanup plan for a short stretch of the Souhegan River. At a public hearing March 15, Jim Brown, an Environmental Protection Agency project manager, explained to a handful of people that the agency wants to remove PCB contaminated sediment from the portion of the river behind the Fletcher Paint Superfund site.

The proposed $2.8 million cleanup would be paid for by General Electric Co. and would be the third phase of the ongoing Fletcher project. "We didn’t realize the extent of the problem" when the Superfund cleanup was planned, Brown told the small audience in the Milford Ambulance Service conference room.

Work will likely begin in late summer. It will involve temporary diversion of the river and removal and off-site disposal of about 2,000 cubic yards of sediment from a third of an acre of riverbed. The contaminated sediment would be trucked away and replaced with an equal amount of clean fill. The removal and disposal plan was one of four alternatives considered by the EPA, and the most expensive of the four. An engineering evaluation decided a less extensive proposal – $1.9 million to partially remove the sediment and cap the area – would involve long-term monitoring, unlike the chosen plan. Doing nothing and short-term controls, such as warning signs, would not achieve EPA goals or satisfy regulations, and a flood like the one from the 2007 nor’easter could damage a cap. "For something this small, it seems reasonable to do it and be done with it," Brown said. Under the proposed plan, river cleanup would be complete this year, with no future monitoring required. Under the other plan, the cap would have to be maintained forever. Brown said testing upstream to the Gregg pedestrian bridge and downstream to the Goldman Dam at the Stone Bridge showed that the pollution doesn’t extend far and seems to be limited to the area where the river bends adjacent to the Fletcher site. The primary risks from PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls, which are considered a probable human carcinogen – are from eating fish and direct, prolonged contact with the sediment. A 2011 risk assessment of the river concluded there is a danger to human health from PCB-contaminated fish and from exposure to water near the Elm Street part of the site.

Peter de Bruyn Kop, a beekeeper who owns a farm downstream in Amherst, wanted to know if PCBs are water soluble, and Brown said they bind with soil particles and are not water soluble. Noting that the area is a canoe put-in spot, George May, president of the Souhegan River Watershed Association, asked if a swimming hole in the Fletcher Paint area of the river could be built into the plan.

Drew Hoffman, of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said laws do not allow them to "better" a Superfund site. Near the end of the information session and public hearing, Milford Town Administrator Mark Bender said town officials are pleased.

"So far, this is well planned and well executed and respectful, and communication has been very good," he said. The ongoing Fletcher Paint Superfund site cleanup, including this third river phase, is expected to be complete this year. The first two phases involve the Elm Street site where PCBs and PCBcontaminated materials were stored and a Mill Street storage site.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.