State, private firm to test gravel pit water

Posted May 14, 2009, at 9:29 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:13 p.m.

SANGERVILLE, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to send groundwater samples taken from the Barrett gravel pit Thursday to an independent laboratory for testing.

The decision was made Wednesday in response to requests from Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, and Sangerville Town Manager Joseph Clark on behalf of East Sangerville residents who fear that materials used to revegetate portions of the gravel pit years ago may have caused their health problems.

“We’re going to sample the monitoring wells out there and we’ll be sending the samples to two separate labs for the metals,” Mark Hyland, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, said Thursday. The samples, which were taken by DEP staff Thursday morning, will be tested at the Public Health Laboratory in Augusta and at Resource Laboratory Inc., a private company in Portsmouth, N.H., he said.

More than five people who live within about a mile of the gravel pit and two former residents said they have experienced memory and cognitive problems, as well as muscle and sleep disorders, which started around 2006-07, about the time the groundwater monitoring ceased at the gravel pit. One couple’s well has since tested high for lead content, and a family member’s urine tested high for mercury and lead. Another resident, who hasn’t had his well tested, also had high levels of lead in his urine. Other residents say they plan to have their urine and well water checked for heavy metals.

To fill and revegetate portions of the gravel pit, the DEP approved the use of paper mill sludge and ash in 1996 and an experimental combination of sewage sludge, commercial fertilizer and bioash in 1999. Although the gravel pit is located on a sand and gravel aquifer, no liner was required.

DEP officials said the project initially contaminated groundwater with heavy metals released through chemical reaction. The contamination subsided, so groundwater monitoring ceased in 2006, the officials said. They also say it is extremely unlikely there is any relationship between the gravel pit revegetation and the well water in East Sangerville.

Because the DEP approved the original gravel pit applications without comment from town officials, residents were concerned about the DEP’s doing the most recent testing. They asked that an independent firm also test the groundwater samples.

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