State researchers are offering to test private wells of 20 Sherborn homeowners who live near General Chemical Corp. in Framingham to determine if a plume of toxins from the hazardous-waste storage facility has reached residents’ drinking water.
The offer to test wells for free at homes on Kendall, Coolidge, Meadowbrook, Perry, and Prospect streets was part of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s effort to determine if General Chemical has set aside enough money to fund a cleanup of the plume, said officials.
The cleanup of the 2-acre property has come under greater scrutiny since the New Jersey-based owners of General Chemical elected to shut the facility the middle of next month. The company is still responsible for cleaning up the plume of solvents, which date to the 1960s. The plume is composed mostly of solvents used in degreasing and dry cleaning.
Sherborn Selectman Paul DeRensis said officials don’t believe toxins have traveled the mile or two from General Chemical to the homes. But state and local officials agreed that now is a good time to test wells, given that state researchers need to determine the extent of the underground contamination.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that this plume of contamination has actually come into Sherborn,’’ said DeRensis. “I don’t want people to be alarmed. This is part of being proactive.’’
There are scores of homes on the Sherborn side of the town’s border with Framingham, but DEP only needs samples from 20 wells to collect sufficient data to assess potential pollution underground, said DeRensis. The DEP has sent letters to households in the area that include consent forms to allow state researchers to test the wells.
Homeowners who return the forms will likely be tested on a first-come-first-serve basis, said DeRensis. “We’re asking people to comply, because out of that will come information and that information will better protect everyone,’’ DeRensis said.
He added that Sherborn already had been monitoring wells at the town line that were periodically tested. “Those wells have not shown any detection,’’ he said.
Steven DeGabriele, the DEP’s director of business compliance, said he expected the new tests to rule out the presence of chemicals in residents’ drinking water, which would allay people’s concerns while providing researchers with more information.
“There obviously has been a release of chemicals into the environment, into the ground water in this facility,’’ said DeGabriele. “The whole idea of assessing a cleanup is understanding where those chemicals are and treating them.’’
DEP spokesman Joe Ferson said the agency expects to receive consent forms from residents over the next month. Testing could begin soon afterward, he said.
As part of its license with the state, General Chemical set aside $1.5 million to clean up the toxic plume. But during the Framingham Health Board’s hearing, town-funded consultants said the company would need to spend several million dollars to properly clean up the site.
The state is now studying whether the company has underestimated the cost of the job. If state researchers determine the cleanup will cost more than General Chemical expects, they could force them to set aside more money.
The general manager of General Chemical, Stephen Ganley, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
General Chemical’s decision to close came after months of Framingham Board of Health hearings on the company’s local permit to operate. The Framingham hearings stemmed from state inspectors citing the company for a series of violations in recent years involving mishandled chemicals.
At a hearing Thursday, Board of Health members directed Town Counsel Christopher Petrini to clarify whether they had any jurisdiction over General Chemical’s cleanup, which is regulated by the state.
Board members wanted to know whether they could prohibit or control when General Chemical uses power washing and sandblasting to clean the Leland Street facility, as the company has proposed to state officials. They feared the cleaning could generate clouds of vapor and dust that might harm neighbors and children at nearby Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.
“This could be going on during the day when kids are out on the playground,’’ said Matt Torti, director of buildings and grounds at the Framingham School Department.
The board was also trying to discover whether Clean Venture, General Chemical’s sister company across the street, can park trucks and other vehicles on General Chemical’s property after the company closes.
Owned by the same New Jersey-based conglomerate, Clean Venture is a hazardous-waste transporter. Under state rules, the company can temporarily store trucks carrying toxins on the property but can’t unload or move toxins among vehicles.
Board of Health chairman Michael Hugo said he and his colleagues would continue to pressure General Chemical to clean up the site. They intended to keep Clean Venture off the company’s property, too, he added.
“They are the ones who are retreating,’’ said Hugo. “That weakens their position if at some point they decide to do a U-turn.’’