EPA to start cleanup of mine site

Posted Nov. 11, 2010, at 7:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:06 p.m.

BROOKSVILLE, Maine — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has secured up to $3 million in Superfund money to begin a cleanup of localized areas at the former Callahan Mine site.

The cleanup, which likely will begin next spring or summer, will target specific locations that had been identified as critical areas and were high priorities for residents, according to Ed Hathaway, the EPA’s project manager for the site.

According to Hathaway, this initial cleanup will target two areas at the former mine site. The first project will clean up lead and arsenic contamination in the soil on private properties near the mine site. The second will remove PCBs from the site and dispose of them at an appropriate disposal site.

“That’s what the community asked for,” he said.

Callahan Mining Co. did extensive mining at the site in the late 1960s and early 1970s, extracting an estimated 800,000 tons of rock containing copper, zinc, lead and traces of silver from the open-pit site. About 5 million tons of waste rock containing contaminants also was removed from the mine and deposited on the site.

The site was listed as a Superfund site in 2002.

After several years of study, the EPA in October 2009 signed a record of decision for the mine site that outlined the scope of the cleanup, including the specific contaminants involved and their location in and around the site.

In addition to the removal of the PCBs and the lead- and arsenic-contaminated soils, the cleanup plan calls for much of the contaminated materials — at the ore pad, the mine operations area and one of the waste rock piles — as well as contaminated sediment to be disposed of in the former mine pit, which was flooded when mine operations ceased in 1972 and is now underwater. It also calls for an impermeable cap to be installed over the tailings impoundment.

That part of the cleanup is much more extensive and more expensive. It likely will be several years before funding is available for that part of the plan, Hathaway said.

The funding was allocated for the initial cleanup based on the Superfund priority system, which, among other things, considers the risks to human health.

“A priority of the cleanup was that the PCBs were exposed and the lead and arsenic were located on residential properties,” Hathaway said.

That was a key consideration for the funding being made available for the initial cleanup, he said.

The details of the cleanup plan are being developed through state agencies, including the Maine departments of transportation and environmental protection. The DEP will oversee the actual cleanup, which likely will begin next spring or early in the summer.

Hathaway said the PCB materials would be taken to a certified disposal site. That site has not yet been identified, he said. When the project is sent out to bid, the contractor will have to indicate where the contaminants will be disposed of finally. Before EPA approves the contract, Hathaway said, it would ensure that the facility was certified. There are no certified sites in New England, he said.

Although the EPA has been awarded up to $3 million for the project, the state of Maine also will have to pay for 10 percent of the eventual cost of cleanup.

Earlier this year, the EPA and the state reached an agreement under which the state will pay 10 percent of the cleanup costs. Early on in the Callahan mine Superfund process, the state had been identified as a potentially responsible party for the contamination at the site, since state agencies had approved permits for the mining operation.

Others also have been identified as responsible parties, but so far the EPA has not reached payment agreements with any of them.

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