An air monitoring system will be tested Tuesday at General Chemical Corp.’s hazardous-waste management facility in south Framingham, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection announced Thursday.
If it works, the department would then authorize the building’s cleanup to begin in earnest.
The New Jersey-based company filed a notice of closure for the 2-acre facility March 1, after years of complaints from Framingham residents about potential health hazards to the surrounding area, including the neighboring Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.
“Anyone in this room would be a fool to think those chemicals won’t continue to be a serious health risk to the community members who live there,” said Anne Sullivan, a member of the Framingham Action Coalition for Environmental Safety, at a meeting Tuesday between the group and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Stephen Ganley, general manager of General Chemical’s facilities in Framingham, did not return calls for comment.
Sullivan and the other members of the Framingham coalition met with the state agency to discuss General Chemical’s closure plan, which they say is inadequate.
Specifically, they asked the department to require General Chemical to tear down all infrastructure, including buildings, tanks, and pavement. Without that, the residents said, an effective cleanup is impossible.
But Steven DeGabriele, director of the department’s Business Compliance Division, said his agency can’t require such demolition unless it’s necessary for cleanup, and it’s not yet clear that is the case.
Right now, the state is focused on the air monitoring system. Cleanup entails decontamination of every building and structure that came in contact with waste materials, DeGabriele said. The air monitoring system will be set up with a low threshold so that if the cleanup stirred up even small levels of contaminants, some kind of alarm would go off and cleaning would cease, he said.
“We want to make it as safe as possible,” said DeGabriele. “We’re looking to have the cleaning done during the summer when children will not be at school.”
He added that all of the buildings and tanks that stored waste have been emptied, which is a “huge reduction of risk.”
Residents at the meeting also expressed concerns about communication. Sullivan said area residents shouldn’t be outside or have their windows open during the cleanup. She asked the department to commit to mailing out a fact sheet in Portuguese and English explaining precautions to take, as well as what’s happening at the site and why.
DeGabriele said the department will produce a fact sheet but it wasn’t settled at the meeting how it would be distributed.
There was concern at the meeting that the neighborhood, which is lower-income and includes people who speak many different languages, gets fair treatment.
State Representative Chris Walsh, a Framingham Democrat, said the area has been a “severe dumping ground” for the last 50 to 60 years. “I don’t think there’s any question in my mind, in south Framingham we’re talking about an environmental justice issue,” he said.
Ethan Mascoop, Framingham’s director of public health, said the air-monitoring test should be conducted where the worst contamination exists. In a three-page letter dated Tuesday to the department, he listed several other concerns and comments related to the closure plan.
In addition to informing neighborhood residents to close windows and stay inside during pilot testing, he asked for a police detail to prevent use of the school during the pilot tests.
Still, he praised the closing as an important step in improving public health. “This has been a truly significant milestone in protecting the neighborhood and improving the environmental conditions of the neighborhood,” said Mascoop. “The question is now how do we repair all the damage and the contamination that’s been left behind.”
What wasn’t discussed at the meeting was money. The company, in an agreement with the department, set aside $1.5 million for the cleanup, which some town consultants have said is insufficient. Also, the ground water cleanup, which will take much longer, was not discussed in detail because it involves department staff not at the meeting.
Sullivan said she isn’t trying to make General Chemical a villain. We all use chemicals and share in the responsibility, she said, but the cleanup has to be done right.
“We are going to be very vocal and very involved,” said Sullivan.