BERLIN — A plan for cleaning up a Superfund site on the east side of the Androscoggin River is still about a year away.
Darryl Luce, an Environmental Protection Agency project manager, told a small group of residents at an information session last Thursday that data-gathering will continue this summer and fall at the former Chlor-Alkali facility.
Possible cleanup plans for the site will be presented at a public hearing early next year, Luce said.
In response to a question from the audience, Luce said there is some money available, but the project will depend on available funding.
The following description of the site’s history is from a Dartmouth Superfund Research Program on the Berlin site: “From 1898 to the 1960s, at the former Chlor-Alkali facility just downstream of the Sawmill Dam on the Androscoggin River, various industrial chemicals, including chlorine, caustic soda, hydrogen, and chloroform, were made using electrolytic cell houses ... Along with the production of the desired chemical, excess salt compounds containing graphite and mercury were disposed of improperly — either by being dumped on the land surrounding the river or in the Androscoggin itself.”
The company went out of business in 1962; the last building was torn down in 1999. A 4.6-acre site was added to the Superfund list in 2005.
The cell house cleanup site is located on the east side of the river, just south of the Saw Mill Dam, which is the dam at the Northern Forest Heritage Park. It is at the far north of the 60-acre former paper mill property, part of which is now being used at a bio-mass facility.
Luce told the two dozen or so residents at Thursday’s meeting that three sites are being studied, including a cell house parcel. He said the largest problems are on the cell house site. The other two have what environmental officials describe as “hot spots,” where there were high contaminations that could pose a threat to bird and mammals.
On the cell house site some of the EPA work done included a number of bedrock wells 200 feet deep, soil bores and six test pits, which showed mercury, dioxins and furans present. The goal of these tests was to determine not only what was on the site, but how the ground water was passing from the property to the river, Luce said.
Regarding the river itself, 27 miles were looked at, which were divided into nine regions from which samples were taken. The Shelburne Reservoir was the last area sampled, Luce said.
Bugs, birds and fish were tested, along with sediment at the bottom of the river.
As researchers had expected, because of the flow of the river and the condition of the mercury, the farther down the river, the greater the accumulated contamination. At the Shelburne site, the mercury reading was six times that found elsewhere, Luce said.
Although the fish are not safe to eat in the tested area, “despite the continual discharge of elemental mercury into the Androscoggin River, EPA found no significant decrease in the survival of aquatic and animal life,” an EPA news release states.