Environment News Service (ENS)

Explosive hazwaste removed from Massachusetts superfund site

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

A time critical removal action was started by federal authorities this week at the Nuclear Metals, Inc. Superfund site in Concord Massachusetts to remove containers of hazardous substances that pose a risk of fire or explosion and radioactive substances.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, undertook the action at the request of the Concord Fire Department which expressed concern about the facility’s ability to adequately manage combustible and flammable hazardous materials following a June 2007 fire at the site.

The Concord site is owned and operated by Starmet Corp., formerly Nuclear Metals, Inc., and other affiliated companies which conduct specialty metals operations at the facility.

Starmet manufactured depleted uranium tipped munitions for the U.S. Army at the Site from the 1970s until 1999.

The 46 acre property is bordered to the north by Main Street, commercial and residential properties, and the Assabet River; to the east by woodland and residential properties; to the west by woodland and commercial-industrial properties; and to the south by woodland and residential properties.

On June 26, 2007, a small fire broke out inside the Starmet facility, which was contained and extinguished by both the Concord Fire Department and the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.

Following the fire, the EPA inventoried containers of hazardous substances in facility buildings that could present a fire or chemical hazards risk, and materials that increase the risk of accelerating a fire due to chemical reactivity or explosion and the risk to personnel involved in firefighting or response activities.

Flammable liquids, compressed natural gas cylinders, toxic compressed gas cylinders, caustic materials, flammable metal powders and other hazardous materials were all identified at the facility.

The majority of the containers were improperly stored and located in portions of the facility buildings that are no longer used for manufacturing.

These findings prompted EPA to test for radiation. After collecting over 1,300 wipe samples, the results indicated varying levels of radioactive contamination on the exterior surface of some of the containers stored in the facility buildings. Air monitoring conducted by EPA at the time of the fire showed no airborne radiation was released as a result of the incident.

The Concord Fire Department ordered Starmet to address the fire safety hazard at the site and provide a plan for the proper storage of all combustible and flammable hazardous materials stored there.

When Starmet failed to fully comply with the order based on a claim of lack of resources, the Concord Fire Department sought EPA's assistance for the removal of all containers stored in the facility buildings that pose a risk of a future fire or explosion. EPA will remove the containers and dispose of them at licensed disposal facilities, including, if necessary, facilities that are licensed to accept radioactive waste.

While Starmet is licensed by the state to possess radioactive materials, it no longer manufactures products with radioactive materials.

In June 2001, the Nuclear Metals Inc. site was added to the Superfund National Priority List of the country’s most serious hazardous waste sites identified for possible long-term cleanup.

In 2002, EPA spent over $1 million on another time critical removal action to conduct test pits and soil sampling on the site, and to install a permanent fence around the old landfill and temporary covers over the holding basin and old landfill.

In 2003, EPA entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Energy, Whittaker Corp., MONY Life Insurance Co. and Textron Inc. to conduct a remedial investigation and feasibility study for the entire site.

Analytical results indicate that the groundwater beneath the property is contaminated with the radionuclides uranium and thorium, and to a lesser extent, volatile organic compounds. In addition, a sphagnum bog on the property has shown evidence of radionuclides. Soil, sediment, and surface water samples taken historically and recently indicate that the holding basin, sphagnum bog, and the cooling water recharge pond all have elevated levels of depleted uranium. Polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, have been found in soils and sediments on-site.

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