EPA says Sangerville must remove and dispose of PCB caulk if former school demolition continues

Posted April 08, 2011, at 8:12 p.m.

SANGERVILLE, Maine —Two price quotes for the removal of hazardous materials from the former Abbie Fowler Elementary School in Sangerville that differed by $360,000 have caused turmoil and drawn the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Residents voted last year to demolish the school, which was deeded to the town after SAD 4 closed it in 2001 during a districtwide consolidation effort. The cost of that demolition however, has become an issue.

‘’We just want the job done; we don’t want the bells and the whistles,’’ Sangerville Town Manager Michelle Dumoulin said Friday. ‘’We just want the basic facts to get the job done.’’

After last year’s vote, the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, or PCEDC, engaged Ransom Environmental Consultants Inc. of Portland to do a hazardous materials inventory at the building on behalf of the town. Its draft report, funded through a federal brownfield site assessment grant, estimated removal costs of up to $400,000.

The PCEDC began working with the town to secure two $200,000 grants through two local nonprofit organizations to do the removal work. As that was under way, town officials hired Steve Wintle of Facility Management Group of Dexter at a cost of about $1,600 to give a second opinion. Wintle, who was hired as the town’s environmental project manager, estimated the hazardous removal costs at up to $40,000.

That difference caused Dumoulin and selectmen to question the sampling practices Ransom had used. Those concerns and the price difference prompted town officials to ask Ransom and Brian Beneski of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection not to release the final draft of the inventory report. The request was rejected and the report was completed and released, Dumoulin said.

Beneski said Friday that even if Ransom had not proposed sampling the building’s window caulking for polychlorinated biphenyl compounds, or PCBs, he believed the EPA would have requested that it be done because it was a former school and because it may be renovated or demolished. ‘’It would be general standard practice to see if it was there,’’ he said.

Dumoulin said Friday that town officials suspected Ransom went further in its inventory than was required by sampling the PCBs in the caulking. ‘’We know that PCB testing in window caulking in schools has never been a requirement, so Ransom went beyond their bounds,’’ she said. Wintle, who agreed it was not a requirement, did not include the PCBs in his inventory; thus the significant difference in estimates, Dumoulin said.

The criticism of Ransom’s work was not well received by company officials. ‘’We felt the claims against us were unfounded and much of our work was taken out of context,’’ Nick Sabatine, vice president of Ransom, said Friday.  He said the town of Sangerville should apologize to Ransom.

Sabatine said his firm conducted the work on behalf of PCEDC under an EPA Brownfields Assessment Program grant that the PCEDC obtained, and he noted that everything done was part of the EPA process.

“Our work was done in accordance with accepted protocols and industry standard of care,’’ he said. Work done under the grant must be reviewed by the DEP and the EPA, and both those governmental agencies agreed with the findings and conclusions of Ransom’s reports, he said. It was those agencies that OK’d the release of the final draft, and the PCEDC concurred with that release, he said.

‘’Our estimates were engineering estimates; they were not bids,’’ Sabatine noted. He said  $400,000 is the figure quoted for the abatement work, but noted it was just an estimate.

In a certified letter sent to the town this week, Nancy Barmakian, manager of the EPA’s Toxics and Pesticides Unit, notified the town that if the building is demolished, any caulk containing PCBs must be removed and disposed of in a licensed facility.  Failure to comply may subject the town to enforcement actions, which may include civil penalties and-or criminal sanctions, she wrote. She gave the town 15 days to respond on its plans to meet the requirement.

R.J. Enterprises Inc. of Brunswick, a DEP-licensed contractor, was awarded a $37,300 contract to remove the hazardous materials. The work will include the removal of asbestos in the ceiling and floor tiles and pipe insulation, mercury containing products, and the PCBs in fluorescent light ballasts. The company also will remove asbestos on the exterior of the boiler and on the rope gaskets between each boiler section, materials that Wintle discovered during his examination, Dumoulin said. The PCBs in the window caulking were not included in the contract.

‘’At this time, the town of Sangerville does not intend to take any action on PCB in window caulking, lead paint or the underground storage tank nor demolish the building,’’ Dumoulin said Friday.

Dumoulin said she and selectmen plan to meet with DEP officials in the near future to discuss the matter further. As for further work that might involve the PCBs in the window caulking, Dumoulin said town officials may look to Gov. Paul LePage for help to resolve the issue. She said other towns that have taken back former schools will face this same problem.

According to the DEP website, PCBs are found in schools constructed from 1950 through 1970.

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