The effort to clean up a contaminated former tannery site in Danvers received a major boost recently when the US Environmental Protection Agency designated the property a Superfund site.
Placement of the former Creese & Cook Tannery on the EPA’s National Priorities List clears the way for the agency to use its resources to clean up the 17-acre property, which is located on both sides of the Crane River and includes the 28-unit Crane River East Condominiums at 33 Water St.
The agency acted at the request of the state and with the support of the town and the Crane River East Condominiums association.
“It’s very good news. It’s a win for everyone,” Town Manager Wayne P. Marquis said of the EPA decision to target the site for a cleanup. “It’s important to address the problem and the EPA stepped up to the plate and it will be addressed.”
Marquis called the process that led to the Superfund listing “a great example of how government at various levels can partner together towards a common goal.”
Since it first proposed listing the Danvers site last fall, the EPA has worked to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination, who could then be required to conduct or fund the cleanup. The agency will seek to complete that process in the coming months, according to Meghan Cassidy, chief of Superfund technical and enforcement support for the EPA’s New England regional office.
Because the Creese & Cook Tannery went bankrupt in 1981, Cassidy said the EPA may have to fund the cleanup if no other responsible party can be found.
By early next year, the EPA expects to begin an investigation into the type and extent of contamination on the site, and assess the risk to public health and the environment. The cleanup would be several years away.
“This is a very large site,” Cassidy said. “It’s complex because it’s on both sides of the river and the contamination has moved into the river from both sides, we suspect.”
The 17 acres includes four parcels, three of them on the river’s east side: 33 Water St., 20 Cheever St., and an MBTA right-of-way. The fourth and largest parcel is across the river at 55 Clinton Ave.
The Creese & Cook Co. owned the site and used it as a leather tanning and finishing operation from 1903 until 1981, according to the EPA. The company took raw animal hides and produced leather for shoes, handbags, gloves, and garments.
The tannery began at 33 Water St. and in 1914 expanded across the river to 55 Clinton Ave., where most work took place. The tannery’s solid wastes were disposed of in two onsite landfills; effluent was discharged to the Crane River and later to sewers; and sludge was deposited in an onsite lagoon system.
After Creese & Cook went bankrupt, the Danversport Tanning Co. continued the operation until about 1984, the EPA said. The condominiums were built in 1986 and 1987.
On multiple areas of the site, there are concentrations of arsenic, chromium, and dioxin — all residues of the tanning process — that exceed health standards, according to the EPA.
Over the past 20 years, the state Department of Environmental Protection has overseen actions to address the pollution.
The EPA first became involved in 2010 when the state learned that there had once been tanning operations on the condominium site. At the state’s request, the EPA investigated and found that contaminated soil on part of the condominium site posed a short-term health risk. The contaminated soil was removed last year.
Then last September, the EPA proposed that the overall Creese & Cook site be included on the National Priorities list. The final list was announced May 21.
The state requested the Superfund designation because it did not have the funds to continue the work at the site, which poses a risk to human health and the environment, according to the EPA.
The state attorney general in 2009 filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court against Nicholas J. Decoulos, the owner of 55 Clinton Ave., alleging that he had violated state hazardous waste law by failing to clean up or adequately secure contamination on his property, and violated the state Clean Air Act as a result of his demolition of a former tannery building, according to court documents.
The attorney general’s office obtained a preliminary injunction giving the state access to the property and requiring the owner to post signs warning of the contamination, and in 2011, a judge granted partial summary judgment on the charges. The case is still pending, according to the attorney general’s office. Decoulos could not be reached.
Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said his agency welcomes the EPA’s inclusion of the Danvers site on the Superfund list.
“We just felt this was the way for these particular properties which are heavily contaminated and a threat to public health and the environment . . . [to be] assessed and cleaned up in a much more timely manner,” he said.
Adam Rogoff, attorney for the Crane River East Condominiums association, said the group is “pleased that the EPA has stepped forward to address the issue at no cost to the unit owners, and that the EPA also committed to dealing with the condominium site first.”