A cleanup plan with too many costs down the road

By David P. Littell, Special to the BDN
Posted April 16, 2010, at 7:56 p.m.

I want to thank the people of Orrington for their continued interest in and concern for the long overdue cleanup of the Mallinckrodt property, also known as the HoltraChem site, which to this day remains one of the most toxic hazardous waste sites in our state.

The Department of Environmental Protection recently hosted a meeting in Orrington where I and eight of our staff members answered questions raised by Orrington residents about the site and the best way to ensure its proper cleanup. We appreciate the Orrington town officials’ interest in ensuring that their residents have every opportunity to hear from the DEP about the “complete cleanup” plan for the Mallinckrodt site.

The DEP plan will:

— Remove all five hazardous waste dumps.

— Greatly reduce the threat to public health.

— Eliminate long-term maintenance.

— Be completed in five to six years.

— Provide better economic redevelopment options.

DEP believes that Mallinckrodt’s plan for leaving hazardous wastes in the ground will present a significant risk of ongoing contamination to groundwater and the Penobscot River and will limit redevelopment of the site. DEP’s full cleanup plan represents the best solution with far fewer risks of future releases.

The Mallinckrodt plan is only a “partial cleanup,” which leaves much of the contamination in Orrington. Only one landfill would be removed for safe disposal; the other four hazardous material dumps would stay right where they are and require Band-Aid fixes forever. These four sites alone contain 80,000 pounds of mercury as well as cancer-causing industrial solvents and a potent pesticide used in chemical warfare during World War I. They will require continued monitoring, maintenance and replacement for eternity.

Leaving four hazardous waste dumps on-site presents a significant and unnecessary risk to the community. None of these dumps meets minimal environmental standards for landfill siting, design, construction or engineering — and all are in vulnerable geological settings. In some cases the hazardous waste rests on bedrock aquifers that by law need to be of drinking water quality.

Hazardous waste is leaking from these dumps directly into the groundwater. Groundwater eventually flows to the Penobscot River. DEP believes the only way to ensure that hazardous waste at this site no longer poses a threat to public health, or the health of the Penobscot River, is to remove it and dispose of it at a specially designed hazardous waste landfill. Not doing so will mean that mercury waste will remain in Orrington in dump sites that:

— Are leaking hazardous waste.

— Have no bottoms to prevent leakage.

— Are located on exposed bedrock aquifers.

— Are in a stream.

— Are near the eroding banks of the Penobscot River.

— Are sitting in the water table.

Mallinckrodt’s consultant, P.E. Lamreau Associates, said more mercury would leach from mercury sludges in the future when the original alkaline makeup of the sludge is exhausted by precipitation. DEP is concerned that the risk exists for higher mercury discharges than the current levels, which even 30 years after the waste disposal stopped continue to exceed acceptable groundwater levels.

The Mallinckrodt plan might be cheaper in the short term, but it requires much higher long-term costs to maintain the four remaining dump sites and treat contaminated groundwater hundreds of years into the future.

Whatever decision is reached by the town and the Board of Environmental Protection, we urge Mallinckrodt and United States Surgical Corp. to stop the litigation and begin cleanup right away. Orrington residents, surrounding communities and the Penobscot River have suffered from 40 years of heavy contamination. This facility was the largest mercury source in Maine for decades and is now unquestionably the largest repository of mercury waste.

It is time to get this cleanup done once and for all.

David P. Littell is commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/04/16/opinion/a-cleanup-plan-with-too-many-costs-down-the-road/ printed on September 24, 2014