Toxic contamination once thought by environmental authorities to be limited to the immediate vicinity of the former Walton & Lonsbury chrome-plating plant at 78 North Avenue in Attleboro likely traveled many yards to the south. Reversing the damage will cost "tens of millions of dollars" and take many years to accomplish, state and federal environmental officials told a packed house at on Monday.
To pay for the expensive cleanup, the effort must get on the federal National Priorities List, which includes projects eligible for financing from the Superfund program. State and federal environmental authorities have determined preliminarily that this project should be placed on the NPL, but there is a public process that would conclude in September 2013 at the earliest. Among the requirements is a letter of support from Gov. Deval Patrick.
"This is a very complicated site," said Jay Naparstek, deputy director of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, during Monday's meeting. "We consider it to be a high risk. It is one of our highest priority sites in the region."
The extent of the contamination is not known, said Meghan Cassidy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, although it not believed to have affected areas north of the plant site. Determination of how far-reaching the pollution is would be made through a broad study that could begin after the project gets on the NPL.
There is no short-term danger, officials said. But long-term contact with the pollutants could lead to health risks. If it were discovered that there were areas of short-term danger, focus of the project would be shifted to address them.
The contamination, which includes lead and chromium as well as degreaser solvents that had been used to clean parts before they were chrome-plated, was spread great distances mostly through flooding, officials said. From 1940 to 1973, the company had dumped the pollutants into a nearby stream, an action that at the time was legal.
Federal officials were asked by the state in 2009 to address contamination issues in the immediate vicinity of the plant, which closed in 2007. This led to the demolition of the structure and a cleanup that will end up costing about $12 million (separate from the "tens of millions" that the additional effort will cost).
Recent soil and water sampling led to the determination the pollution went beyond the immediate area.
When asked by a resident what precautions should be taken with regards to gardening, Jessica Burkhamer from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said all locals should take the same precautions.
"Attleboro is an urban area and it has a long industrial history," Burkhamer said. "Even if you had no contamination associated with Walton & Lonsbury, it's still safer to use raised beds and bring in soil."
Attendees were encouraged to contact their local and state representatives about placing the project on the NPL. The elected officials in turn plan to contact the governor, whose blessing is an absolute requirement to reach NPL status. In addition to numerous area residents, several elected officials were at the meeting, including City Councilors Frank Cook, Richard Conti and Jeremy Denlea as well as state Rep. George T. Ross.
"While I am happy to see this project moving forward, we must not forget the dire importance of this cleanup," Denlea told Attleboro-Seekonk Patch. "The health of many Attleboro residents is at risk."