HANSON — While most of the work is taking place over the town line in Hanover, Hanson residents had the chance to voice their concerns with state officials last week.
Mass DEP representatives Deborah Marshall-Hewitt and Gerard Martin provided an overview of the work done on the former National Fireworks Site — and a look ahead to the next phase of the work— during a Wednesday, Oct. 16 meeting at Hanson Middle School. Town Moderator Sean Kealy presided over the session attended by Selectmen Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, Matt Dyer and Wes Blauss.
“The board thought that it was important to ask these folks from MassDEP to be here tonight to answer questions that might be unique to Hanson citizens,” said FitzGerald-Kemmett who chairs the Board of Selectmen.
Most of the questions at the Hanson forum focused on water contamination and blasting at the site.
Marshall-Hewitt, a 26-year veteran of MassDEP, is the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup Audit section chief and project manager for the Fireworks site cleanup. Martin is deputy regional director for the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup in the Southeast region.
She described the cleanup process contaminated waste goes through, location of munitions on the site and contact information for MassDEP and the state attorney general’s office. Video of the meeting can be viewed on the Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV website.
“No public or private water supply wells have been impacted by the contaminants released at the site,” Marshall-Hewitt said. “That’s a really important piece. I think a few residents in Hanover didn’t quite understand [that], but we have tested groundwater — a lot of the wells in the area receive drinking water from municipal water supply wells. Those municipal water supply wells are tested separately from what we are doing at the fireworks site.”
She said the results have been fine.
Martin added that municipal wells are also required to tap into Zone 2 acquifers, a zone of groundwater no where near the fireworks site.
Right now access to the fireworks factory site is restricted and patrolled by Hanover Police, who have made a number of arrests and stopped several others from entering the site, according to Marshall-Hewitt. People who fish in affected water will not be harmed by handling the fish, but are advised not to eat the fish.
“There has been a fish advisory out for a long time,” she said of mercury contamination. Phase three will focus on dredging sediment to remove heavy contaminants such as mercury, as well as an Immediate Response Action for any more munitions found on the site. The estimated cost, to be shouldered by the parties responsible for contamination is $92 million, including dredging and disposal of dredged sediment.
The work is estimated to take three to four years, Marshall-Hewitt said, but Martin expects it to take longer.
“I think this could be optimistic,” he said. “This is a very involved project. They’re not even sure how they are going to do the dredging yet.”
The process has already taken 10 years, a resident said.
“There are a lot more than we anticipated that are being removed,” she said.
The site involves 240 acres bounded by Winter and King streets in Hanover and Hanson and had been used for the manufacture, testing and storage of fireworks and military ordnance from 1907 to the 1970s.
A Mass. Contingency Plan for the remediation of various chemical contaminants — primarily mercury and lead — is entering a third phase three, for which the public comment period closes Friday, Oct. 25.
“We will not comment on the phase three report until we get all the comments from the public,” Martin said. “We want to consider what your concerns are when we’re looking at this report and figuring out how to move forward.”
Phase three will include the evaluation and selection of cleanup alternatives, a draft of which was submitted to the MassDEP in July.
The Hanson town website (hanson-ma.gov) has links posted for information about what the project has accomplished and what is ahead.
Questions posed from a handful of Hanson residents Oct. 16 focused on the health impacts of lead and mercury contaminants, found in sediment of Factory Pond and Indian Head River.
Mercury was detected in sediment, soil, groundwater and fatty tissues of fish — as well as lead and volatile organic compounds — during phase two. Additional work included indoor air and irrigation well sampling, both of which were concerns expressed by Hanson residents.
State Street resident Peggy Westfield asked about cancers possibly related to the contamination from a personal vantage point. In 1988, her son Matthew died from leukemia at age 7.
“Does the DPH have all that information?” she asked about a Hanover brain cancer case being checked for a connection to the contamination. “Should I give them the information? If you look at people around this room … there are other kinds of cancer that I believe to be caused by this site.”
She pointed to the Indian Head River as a potential site. Martin said she should contact the DPH, which has two people investigating the connection with contamination.
Another asked about irrigation well contamination and explosions — the latter of which have caused cracked foundations not covered by homeowners’ insurance, and stress to pets that has led to destructive behavior.
“Everybody tells me it’s not their responsibility,” said one resident who noted only interim Town Administrator Meredith Marini has tried to help.
FitzGerald-Kemmett suggested the funds from responsible parties funding the site cleanup, should also be tapped to help homeowners.
Paul Nichol, a Winter Street resident, said his dog has suffered a great deal from the blasting.
“We’ve had thousands of dollars of damage caused by my dog,” he said. “The dog hears the siren and knows the explosion is coming, so he starts running through the house, throws himself through a glass door, tried to actually eat his way out of the house through a door.”
He has had to put the dog in day care.
“It’s too bad when these things follow you home,” said Conservation Commission member Phil Clemons, who has worked for 35 years in the environmental health and safety management in the corporate world. “This is the kind of project where you have a lot of overlap between environmental issues, wildlife issues, human health and human safety issues.”
As a youth, he said he used to fish in Factory Pond, expressing interest in the fish studies, as well as those into human health.
“A very high interest will continue to be sampling or removing sediment from the pond or from the streams,” he said. “Lots of things go on with sediment we don’t usually pay attention to or see, but, by golly, this calls for attention.”
A Sept. 24 public hearing in Hanover, described by most who attended both sessions as contentious, also featured representatives of the Mass. Department of Public Health, as well as staff members of U.S. Rep. Bill Keating and U.S. senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren — who were not present in Hanson.
Marshall-Hewitt said the MassDPH is now conducting a cancer study among people who live in proximity to the fireworks site, and provided general information at the Sept. 24 meeting.
Another meeting is planned for 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 14 at Hanover Town Hall, 550 Hanover St., to discuss an upcoming grant opportunity and planning process to identify and implement restoration projects that will restore fisheries, rivers, and wetlands in the North, Indian Head, and Drinkwater Rivers as well as Factory Pond. We recommend potential applicants attend to discuss project ideas before the North River Watershed Restoration Grant Announcement and Application (GAA) is issued in Fall/Winter 2019.
The potentially responsible parties from whom $68 million has been placed in an expendable trust for reimbursement or payment of response action costs are: National Coating Company, MIT, the bankrupt Susquehanna Corp., and Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp. (Tronox-bankrupt), which make up the Fireworks Site Joint Defense Group and the Defense Department.