EPA Dances Around Harbor PCB Questions

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

FAIRHAVEN, Mass. — Hands Across the River Coalition (HARC) members had a dozen questions for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, literally, in a handout they gave to the 75 people who attended an Oct. 22 public information meeting on PCB disposal. EPA plans on placing at least 300,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated New Bedford Harbor sediment from Aerovox Corp. into confined aquatic disposal (CAD) cells dug in the harbor.

But the central question of the evening, and one EPA staff repeatedly refused to answer, was: What will be the maximum concentration of PCB-laden sediments in the CAD cells?

Previously, EPA documents stated the maximum level would be between 50 and 190 parts per million (ppm).

“Will the maximum concentration in the CAD cell be 190 ppm, above the average 100 ppm Massachusetts' maximum level allowed?” asked Mark Brown, Ph.D., a local resident and PCB expert involved in Superfund cleanups for the past 30 years.

EPA CAD cell project manager David Lederer answered that the project’s 2011 explanation of significant differences stated that “generally the levels on average will be 100 ppm.” More detailed sampling was needed, according to Lederer.

“Very high levels were found in the area above Coggeshall Street Bridge in five locations out of 88 sampled,” Lederer said. “It is unlikely we would ever put that in a CAD cell.”

Up to 3,000 ppm PCBs were found in the top 3 feet of sediments near the abutments and up to 2,100 ppm at depths of 5 feet just offshore in that area.

Lederer went on to say that construction documents were given to the environmental organization Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC), as well as a grant to pay for engineering review by a consultant.

“How can we do a technical review when we haven’t received the documents?” said Marc Rasmussen, BBC’s executive director. “You can’t say the Buzzards Bay Coalition is reviewing the project if we don’t receive the documents.”

Rasmussen also demanded to know what the maximum allowable concentration would be in the CAD-cell sediments, waving a document provided by EPA that he said gave a range of concentrations from 50-190 ppm.

EPA site manager Ginny Lombardo stepped in, saying, “We’re not going to put levels of 3,000 ppm (PCBs) in the CAD cells.”

While Lombardo noted that the EPA would look at all of the historical and current data, she said, “I would prefer having all data in hand before answering.” Prior to material going into the CAD cell, the data will be presented to the EPA’s Technical Work Group, Lombardo said, and invited anyone interested in joining that group.

HARC’s vice president, Karen Vilandry, wanted to know how many CAD cells were planned in addition to the three that were already built. She referred to a 20-year navigational dredging plan for the harbor, the Dredge Management & Monitoring Plan, that indicates 19 CAD cells.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) project manager Paul Craffey said he didn’t have an exact number. Under the State Enhanced Remedy, Massachusetts is responsible for managing the lower concentrations of contaminated materials that wouldn’t be taken offsite.

“There was no money and no place to bring the material,” Craffey said. The approximately 1 million cubic yards of material anticipated from navigational dredging contains less than the highest level that the EPA was leaving behind, or 50 ppm PCBs.

Brown said the new EPA Focused Feasibility Study is an opportunity to revisit the decision to leave up to 600,000 cubic yards of higher levels of PCB-contaminated soils behind in CAD cells or in onshore confined disposal facilities (CDFs).

In Brown’s presentation at the Eighth International PCBs Workshop in Woods Hole earlier this month, he refuted EPA claims that CAD cells have been used in other residential areas and/or at these levels. EPA’s example, the CAD cell at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Seattle, had levels of PCB less than or equal to 2 ppm, according to Brown. EPA later claimed to have misinterpreted the data.

“This community can do better,” Brown said.