Uncertain future for Keyes well even after cleanup

Photo by KATHY CLEVELAND Service stations across Elm Street from the Keyes Municipal Well and past industrial contamination raise questions about whether the well will ever be used again, despite the EPA’s Fletcher Paint Superfund cleanup.

MILFORD – The multimillion-dollar cleanup at the Fletcher Paint Superfund Site is finally over, and tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil and sediment from the Souhegan River have been trucked away.

One of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s main goals was to give the town well water clean enough to drink; however, there is a good chance the Keyes Municipal Well might never again meet drinking water standards.

There are two gas stations not far from the well site. State officials said that because of how the ground slopes, water coming from the area of the stations tends to flow in the direction of the well, and so would oil or gasoline accidentally spilled on the ground.

“Realistically, having it in a commercial area” means the well is always at risk of contamination, said Andrew Hoffman, an engineer in the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ hazardous waste remediation bureau.

“Accidents happen,” he said, despite modern regulations aimed at protecting natural resources.

The Keyes well, located in the northwest corner of Keyes Memorial Park, once drew from a 3-mile underground water body called the Milford-Souhegan Glacial Drift Aquifer.

The well was removed from service in the early 1980s after routine sampling found low levels of volatile organic compounds, as well as petroleum-related compounds.

The yearlong federal cleanup, paid for by General Electric Co., remedied the VOC pollution, but petroleum contamination has been a problem over the years.

In the 1990s, EPA sampling found significant contamination in groundwater under Keyes Field from a release at the Xtramart Shell station. Then in 2009, oil flowed for three days into the soil beneath the pump at the Snack Corner Mobile station, and then into a culvert and into the river. The EPA fined owner Draper Energy and station operator Energy North $49,000 for failing to put in place a spill prevention plan and illegally discharging diesel fuel.

Hoffman remembers another more recent accident: A truck filling up at the Snack Corner pulled away with the gasoline nozzle still attached, letting 150 gallons of gas flow into the storm drain.

Those incidents don’t bode well for potential drinking water.

Brandon Kernen, in the DES drinking water and groundwater bureau, said that when approving a well, the state considers all nearby land use activities and their potential sources of contamination because the state wants a site with “as pristine environment as possible.”

But in the long run, the cleanup was worthwhile, he said.

“In 50 years, 20 years, maybe it would be more viable, and maybe the gas stations will be gone,” Kernen said.

Milford now takes its water from wells on land it owns in Amherst, using Pennichuck Water Co.y as a backup source. Town water commissioners have been looking for another well site to lessen the town’s dependence on Pennichuck, but last year, they told selectmen they’re running out of options.

Commissioner Robert Courage, a retired Milford Public Works director, said there are other threats that would prevent the use of the Keyes well, including the migration of contaminated water from the Savage Well, Milford’s other Superfund site.

The Savage Well aquifer and the Keyes aquifer both extend along the south side of the river and are connected, he said.

“Unfortunately, there was widespread contamination” from local industries, Courage said. “I don’t see how we’d be able to use” the well again.

Sources of contamination include the Permattach Diamond Tool Corp., which disposed of industrial cleaning fluids at its site adjacent to Keyes Park, he said. The plant closed many years ago, and the town of Milford bought the property for recreation uses about three years ago.

EPA and DES representatives have told town officials that the Savage Well’s contamination is more extensive than originally estimated, and that it could take hundreds of years before it could produce drinkable water.

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