EAST SANGERVILLE, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection plans to take groundwater samples Thursday from the monitoring wells in Barrett Pit and test them for heavy metals.
The monitoring is in response to complaints that several people in the neighborhood have experienced memory problems, sleep and muscle disorders, and other illnesses they believe could be connected to sludge-spreading operations in the gravel pit in 1996 and 1999. The sludge, which included an experimental mixture, was applied without a liner on a sand and gravel aquifer and was used to revegetate some of the former pits.
Several residents in the neighborhood, who met in early March to discuss their concerns, said they began experiencing the problems around 2006, the same year monitoring was discontinued at the gravel pit. One resident, whose well water tested high for lead, was treated for high levels of lead and mercury in her urine. Another resident also had a higher than average amount of lead in his urine. Others are waiting to have similar testing done.
While the sludge operation did contaminate the groundwater with heavy metals released through chemical reaction, DEP officials say it is extremely unlikely there is any relationship between the gravel pit revegetation and the well water in East Sangerville. The DEP said subsequent testing showed the contamination subsided and the groundwater monitoring ceased.
The groundwater monitoring this week will be conducted by Dick Behr, DEP’s project engineer.
“It’s not a very likely scenario for the activity — this reclamation activity — to have migrated contaminants leached from this reclamation activity in two different directions, 2,000 feet in one direction and over a mile in another [direction],” Behr said Tuesday.
Behr said it was more likely the health issues were related to diet, lifestyle or work exposures.
Since the BDN published an article about the cluster of residents who were concerned about their health, two former residents have said that they, too, have similar health problems.
Richard Hall, 58, of Dexter, who was raised and lived in East Sangerville until 2000, said his health began failing between 1999 and 2000. He suffers from muscle, memory and sleep problems, he said this week. Hall said he has a disease of the liver which is not a waterborne problem. However, he points out, the liver helps filter the body’s wastes.
“I do have a lot of the symptoms — same as everyone else has in the neighborhood,” Hall said. He said his well water was never tested.
Despite his problems, Hall and his wife, Jane Daniel-Hall, plan to move back into the region. The couple are building a new house about a half-mile from the gravel pit where a new well has already been drilled.
Daniel-Hall said she had struggled to find a cause for her husband’s illnesses over the years and most recently had thought he might have mercury poisoning. She said with the problems that exist in the neighborhood, she now plans to have her husband’s hair and urine tested for heavy metals. They also plan to test their new well and the well water where Hall was raised, she said.
Uncomfortable with the fact that the DEP is testing the groundwater when it was the agency which approved the spreading of the sludge in the first place, Daniel-Hall said an independent firm should be hired to do both the collecting and sampling.
Also affected by similar health issues is Terri Cushing, 51, of Hampden. Cushing lived about a mile west of the gravel pit from 1987 to 2002 and suffers from the same problems, she said. She also has bladder cancer, she said Tuesday. Cushing said she planned to have her urine tested for heavy metals.
Behr said the groundwater would be checked for sodium, chloride, alkalinity, iron, manganese, lead, mercury and arsenic, among other compounds.
Officials from Pike Industries, which purchased the gravel pit around 2004 and was not involved in the spreading, declined a request from the BDN to observe Thursday’s sampling.