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Cleanup at Framingham plant shifts focus to water

Ground-water testing around the closed General Chemical Corp. hazardous-waste facility in densely populated south Framingham could begin next week, the unofficial start to what is expected to be years of monitoring and cleanup, according to state officials.

Meanwhile, residents who were concerned about the spread of contamination successfully petitioned the state last month for more access to the cleanup process.

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General Chemical filed a notice of closure for its facility on March 1 , after years of complaints from residents and officials about potential health hazards in the neighborhood.

Most of the cleanup was finished in time for the start of classes at the adjacent Woodrow Wilson Elementary School on Aug. 29, but the remaining structural decontamination will be done when school is not in session, again using air monitoring to protect the neighborhood, according to the state.

But as the focus moves from the relatively simple building cleanup to the much more complex ground-water decontamination, residents say they will be watching closely.

“I want to make sure they have an accurate picture of what’s actually in the ground, because the previous testing was incomplete,” said Kristen Nason, who lives in the area. “I want to make sure they do a thorough assessment of how far it is and how bad.”

That is the plan, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which decided that more wells were needed because of inadequate data.

‘These types of ground-water cleanups will take many years to get to an acceptable level.’

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“There’s been a lot of testing done, a lot of ground-water monitoring wells installed on the facility and down grade from the facility on other property,” said Steve Johnson, deputy regional director for the department.

But the ground-water plume is heading toward a large wetland area that includes Course Brook, which flows into Sherborn, he said. So it was decided about a year ago that more testing would be needed, and a plan was approved by the state May 9 to include more wells downhill from the site and in the wetlands.

The primary concern is certain chlorinated solvents, said Johnson, which are denser than water and sink when they go into the ground. Tests have shown some of these solvents are in the ground-water table, said Johnson. Now the question is how widespread and how deep the solvents are.

With no known danger to any public water supply, he said, the state is looking at private wells.

General Chemical’s general manager in Framingham, Stephen Ganley, declined to comment. Stefan Sokol, the environmental expert managing the cleanup for the company, did not return a call for comment.

General Chemical was finalizing access rights for testing last week, and Johnson said he expected ground-water testing to begin as soon as Sept. 17. Early results could be available in November.

Testing for other potential contaminants, such as metals, will happen later, as will soil testing, said Johnson.

Some of the wells will likely be monitored for years, he said.

“These types of ground-water cleanups will take many years to get to an acceptable level,” he said.

That’s one reason a group of residents largely from Kendall Avenue and Leland Street, near General Chemical, filed the 10 required signatures with the state to obtain the cleanup’s designation as a “public involvement plan’’ site.

Sokol, the company’s environmental expert, wrote a letter to petitioners Aug. 16 informing them that a draft public involvement plan would be prepared and presented at a public meeting within 60 days, as required by law.

The rules for setting up a public involvement plan require the establishment of a local information repository (often a public library), a mailing list, opportunities for public comment on site assessment and cleanup reports submitted to the state, and responses to public comments, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Residents are hopeful the designation will mean more transparency.

“We are expecting that it will help because the community will be directly involved and have access to data from the closure cleanup activities,” said Anne Sullivan, one of the petitioners. “That will inform the remediation plan that hopefully will follow. We’re very pleased about that.”

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.
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