Boston — A toxic cleanup in Berkley, Massachusetts may not be clean after all, according to a state audit released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is threatening fines against a landowner because his private consultant submitted an analysis that may have downplayed dangerous dioxin and chromium remaining on land they claim is safe.
A November 2, 2005 audit by DEP found that the private consultant report used to declare the Berkley site clean was not “scientifically valid and defensible.” As a result, the landowner may face fines until reliable testing can be completed.
These latest developments prolong the tragic legacy of Berkley, nearly six years after the town was told that EPA completed an effective toxic cleanup. The cleanup of an old tannery waste site began in 1998, and in January 2000, the final truckloads of contaminated soil left the area. A total of 20,450 tons of chromium-contaminated soil were transported to a lined landfill and a site called Bog’s Landing, located off North Main Street, was declared clean.
Despite that declaration, cancer deaths continued at an alarming rate downstream of Bog’s Landing. A PEER study based on death records of Berkley residents from 1960 through 2002 determined residents living downstream of the Bog’s Landing site have a 56% higher odds of dying from cancer than residents living upstream. These statistically significant findings support the contention that the contaminant in Berkley is water borne from a point source.
Berkley has no municipal water supply; thus everyone in town relies on wells for their drinking water. Despite official assurances that local wells had been tested, relatively few had. Moreover, recent extensive work on property abutting the old tannery site, including digging reservoirs, pumping groundwater and removing gravel, may have altered the hydrology of the contaminated site and stirred up any remaining contamination. Meanwhile, Berkley residents keep on drinking the water.
A private developer now wants to build a large residential development right next to the contaminated site. The proposed development, Deerfield Crossing, will consist of 19 single-family homes, all with private wells, located just a stone’s throw from the old tannery and septic waste dump cleaned up by EPA.
“This long overdue audit is timely in that it occurred just as a new development is up for approval,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former EPA scientist who has been agitating for action for more than two years. “Why in the world would these public agencies sign off on constructing more houses and digging more wells without knowing whether the water is safe to drink?”
Next Monday, January 9th at 7 p.m., the Berkley Soil Board will hold a public hearing on a proposed permit for the developer to alter soils on nearby land where little, if any, soil testing has been conducted.