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Landfill report is good and bad

Low levels of toxins discovered
(Herald News - James Finlaw Reporter-10/11/01)

Test results from wells at the city landfill have shown trace amounts of mercury, cyanide, lead and selenium, something the firm collecting the data declared was not a threat to people's health, but which City Council President Mark Gustafson said convinces him that the landfill should be closed. A representative from the environmental consulting firm the city hired in March, to assess the impact of the landfill may be having on the environment, appeared before the City Council Tuesday to explain his findings to date. The results he presented were somewhat ambiguous.

On the one hand, Kevin Miller, the director of chemistry and toxicology for Fuss & O'Neil Inc., reported that the firm's evaluation yielded the discovery of 55 "potential contaminants" in some of the 23 monitoring wells located in and around the sprawling landfill. He said the presence of the contaminants indicated a "potential" for them to leach into surface water. Of the 55 contaminants, Miller said, four were detected in levels exceeding the state Department of Environmental Protection's standards. Miller said heightened levels of mercury, cyanide, lead and selenium were found in three of the test wells located on the landfill site.

"Many of them can be naturally occurring, but most of the ones we detected probably came from the landfill,"Miller told the council. But at the same time as he spoke of the potential for the pollutants to create environmental problems, Miller stated that the contaminants did not pose a public health threat. "Based on available data, there is no significant risk to human health or the environment,"he said. "From an ecological perspective, with the data we have right now, there is no apparent risk to the ecosystem." As he spoke, Miller repeatedly stressed the phrase "available data," explaining that his findings were based on the first phase of the study Fuss & O'Neil is undertaking at the landfill.

The initial phase of the two-part study was based on data collected since November 2000 by ATC Associates of East Providence, R.I. The city pays ATC to conduct quarterly tests of the test wells. While the initial phase of the assessment enabled his firm to get a basic grasp of the situation at the landfill, Miller said there remained a number of "significant data gaps." Miller said the second phase of Fuss & O'Neil's assessment would help fill those gaps. He said the next round of study at the landfill would be more comprehensive and would include soil, air and sediment testing not conducted by ATC. He said the second phase would also feature additional ground and surface water testing. Miller said he expected to wrap up the first phase of the assessment within the next 30 days. The city paid Fuss & O'Neil $40,000 to conduct the first round study. The second phase will begin shortly after the conclusion of the first, and will be completed in early January. The city will pay the firm another $40,000 for the second phase.

While Miller's presentation did not seem to present the sterling evidence the city would need to shut down the landfill, it did answer some important questions for those city councilors who have long called for the facitity's closure.

Source confirmed
Councilor Brian Pearson said he was especially pleased to hear Miller state that the contamination was indeed coming from the landfill. "Mr. Miller said it's coming from the landfill. We know the contaminants are coming from the landfill,"said Pearson, who filed a resolution several months ago asking for Fuss & O'Neil to appear before the council. "In the past when we asked DEP and the Board of Health where it was coming from, they said they didn't know," he said. Pearson said he was also hopeful that the firm would be able to map the movements of the groundwater beneath the landfill. Because certain monitoring wells indicated the presence of contaminants at one time, and not during subsequent tests, it is evident that the water in them is moving. Pearson said it is important to learn where the water is traveling, so it can be determined if it is flowing toward the city's water supply or the Taunton River.

Pearson and Council President Mark Gustafson have been at the fore of the council's fight against the landfill, each claiming that it poses a grave threat to the city's water supply. The north Watuppa Pond is located roughly one mile southeast of the landfill.

Gustafson wants closure
Following Tuesday night's council meeting, Gustafson said he believed the city had accrued enough evidence over the past few years to shut the landfill down. "We have enough information on our side to halt BFI's (landfill operator rowning Ferris Industries) operation,"said Gustafson. Besides noting the contamination Miller spoke Tuesday, Gustafson cited previous studies conducted at the landfill by Fuss & O'Neil in 1996 and 1999. In 1999, the company reported finding contamination in 18 of the 23 monitoring wells at the site. The consulting firm also reported detecting contaminants in the surface waters of Mother's Brook, a small stream that flows by the landfill.

Of paramount concern to Gustafson was the detection of traces of MBTE in the test well located closest to the water supply in November 2000. The well is situated to the east of Riggenbach Road. Miller explained that MBTE is a chemical compound added to gasoline. He said the well indicated the presence of "one or two micrograms per liter" of MBTE in November 2000, and has not shown evidence of such contamination since. He noted that the state's drinking water standard allows for 70 micrograms per liter. "I don't think it's something to be concerned about now. I'd watch it. It's only been seen once,"Miller said.

Danger minimized
Board of Health Director Rosemarie Capone-Wilding said the evidence Fuss & O'Neil has collected to date is not enough to prompt the board to close the landfill. "It would have to be total negligence on the part of BFI that caused contamination in the drinking water supply," she said of what would compel the board to close the landfill.

Gustafson said he found the Board of Health's philosophy lacking. "We should be in a preventative mode. The only preventative mode is to halt the operation of BFI," he said.

Councilor Joseph Camara said he believed Gustafson's call for the immediate closure of the landfill was a bit hasty. He said he favored waiting for Fuss & O'Neil to complete the second phase of its assessment of the landfill site before taking any action. "I think what we have to do is wait to get the data, and have Fuss & O'Neil tell us whether it is jeopardizing the watershed," said Camara. "The data they accumulate will dictate the course of action the city takes. That's why they're (Fuss & O'Neil) the consultants. They're the experts,"he said. Camara said he was pleased with the firm's presentation, and was relieved by Miller's statement concerning the nature of the contamination at the Fall River landfill. During the meeting, Miller said the contaminants found at the landfill are consistant with those found at the other 40 New England landfills Fuss & O'Neil examines. "It was relieving to find out it wasn't showing any levels of contamination out of the ordinary," said Camara.

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