State, firm skewered on cleanup

Framingham residents have complained that there are no padlocks or fencing at a vacant house contaminated by General Chemical pollution, or warning signs posted at nearby wetlands that might be used by children at play.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff /File 2011
Framingham residents have complained that there are no padlocks or fencing at a vacant house contaminated by General Chemical pollution, or warning signs posted at nearby wetlands that might be used by children at play.

Framingham residents and health officials took the state Department of Environmental Protection and a contractor to task last week, saying that the public has been given, at best, incomplete information, and perhaps inaccurate details about the threats posed by General Chemical Co.’s former hazardous-waste operation.

The Boston Globe
An abandoned, contaminated house near the factory bought by General Chemical.

“We’ve come a long way in the last couple of years, but we haven’t come far enough, quick enough,” said Michael Hugo, chairman of the town’s Board of Health.

A meeting to review a draft “public involvement plan’’ and an update on conditions at the 2-acre property on Leland Street was held Thursday at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, which sits next to the General Chemical site. The session was organized after members of the Framingham Action Coalition for Environmental Safety filed a petition calling for the plan to be developed.


Hugo said his board had been “overlooked tremendously” by both Groundwater & Environmental Services Inc., the company hired by General Chemical to oversee the property’s cleanup, and the state environmental agency, and described information given in a joint presentation by them as “far from the whole truth.”

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“There were many, many items omitted,” he said.

Karen Stromberg, the Department of Environmental Protection’s public involvement coordinator, said Framingham residents and officials would be involved during all phases of the cleanup process.

“This is our first meeting,” she said. “We want to listen to what your concerns are . . . and answer any questions you have.”

Groundwater & Environmental Services project manager Stefan Sokol said the pollutants at and around the site causing the most concern are chlorinated volatile organic compounds.


However, Hugo said that the presence of “dense nonaqueous phase liquid’’ was underplayed in the presentation.

According to Sokol’s company, the liquid is an undissolved solvent, and can sink deep into groundwater. Hugo is also unhappy that other pollutants at the site, including petroleum, freon, PCBs, heavy metals, and pesticides, received little mention.

New Jersey-based General Chemical announced in March 2012 it was closing the toxic-waste handling site, after complaints from Framingham residents and officials that it was creating possible health hazards in the neighborhood.

The property was developed in the 1920s by the Gulf Oil Corp. General Chemical took over the site in 1960, and used it as a solvent storage and distribution facility.

The operation had drawn complaints from the Framingham Board of Health, which reported finding barrels of improperly stored chemicals, contaminated water pumped outside from the basement, and possible structural problems with the laboratory floor. As a result, General Chemical was fined almost $30,000 by the state in 2010, and is required to pay for the cleanup in and around the property.


However, Nina Pickering Cook, a lawyer representing Framingham Action Coalition for Environmental Safety members, questioned whether General Chemical has the funds to pay for restoring the site.

‘This is our first meeting. We want to listen to what your concerns are . . . and answer any questions you have.’

The company has promised the Department of Environmental Protection it would provide $1.4 million for the cleanup effort, but Stephen Johnson, the agency’s deputy regional director, said it was too early to know whether that amount would be sufficient.

Many attending last week’s meeting said there is a lack of safeguards in areas that could be affected by pollutants from the site, including nearby wetlands, a drainage ditch, an aquifer that serves as an emergency water supply for the town, the Century Estates condominium complex, and the Woodrow Wilson School.

Pickering Cook said that an abandoned house, purchased by General Chemical after it was contaminated by fumes emanating from the ground­water, constituted an “attractive nuisance” for children to play in and around. There was not a padlock on the door or fencing around the house to keep kids away, she said.

Town Manager Robert Halpin said a request was made to the town to remove the structure, but regulatory hurdles prevented that. “What we need is an objective, data-driven discussion” regarding the house, he said.

Other residents pointed out that children were also venturing into wetlands adjacent to the condo complex, but neither the state agency nor the cleanup company had posted signs warning of contaminated water.

Andrew Smyth stated that while General Chemical knew about the contamination as far back as 1992, the company did little remediation, and that groundwater monitoring wells were inadequate.

According to state environmental official Stromberg, the final methods for cleaning up the General Chemical site have yet to be determined, and noted the process could take years.

Framingham residents wishing to comment on the draft public involvement plan should submit comments by April 24 to Stefan C. Sokol, LSP, Groundwater & Environmental Services Inc., 3645 Littleton Road, Suite 4, Westford, MA 01886, or call 800-226-6119.

John Swinconeck can be reached at johnswinc@ gmail.com.