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by Faith DeAmbrose
What was billed as the annual update of progress at the Callahan Mine Superfund Site in Cape Rosier ended up taking a surprise turn on July 18 as a possible change of ownership was announced.
The 150-acre former mine site currently belongs to a single-entity trust called the Smith Cove Preservation Trust. The trust has two directors, James Benenson and John Curci, and it is registered in Brecksville, Ohio.
A representative from the trust’s legal defense team, Washington, D.C. attorney Joseph Lonardo, stole the show as he began to provide details aimed at possibly donating the site to the town of Brooksville. While the initial reactions from some residents in attendance contained audible gasps and a few snickers, audience members warmed up once they learned that the town would not be responsible for any costs associated with the multi-million dollar cleanup.
According to Superfund legislation, said Ed Hathaway of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Smith Cove Preservation Trust is among those considered to be a partially responsible party, although Lonardo said he strongly disagreed. And as such, said Hathaway, the trust has been considered all along as one of the parties that could be responsible for cleanup costs (under the legislation). However, given that the trust does not actually have any cash assets, the EPA would not be able to recoup cleanup funds from the trust.
“Either way, the taxpayers will be paying for the cleanup,” Hathaway said when several people asked if this was a way for the trust to “get out of” having to pay.
Hathaway said that given the state of the site, and the fact that additional contaminates (over what had been originally projected) have been discovered, it may be upwards of 10 years before the site would be safe for consistent public use. That timeline, said Lonardo, is not realistic for the trust.
Currently the cleanup has entered a phase whereby the property owner must engage in conversation with the EPA to determine future use and agree to land restrictions, said Lonardo, adding that “as an owner, Brooksville, would have more of a say in how the site is developed.” According to the EPA, the land use restrictions will prevent future residential use and future groundwater use.
Speaking for the board of selectmen, Chairman John Gray said they were “quite interested” in the possible transfer of ownership. “We look forward to seeing a plan and once we have, we will bring it to the town for a vote,” said Gray. If the town approves, a committee would be formed to provide input about “what we’d like to see in the future.”
The Callahan Mine Superfund site is still contaminated and cleanup will take longer than expected, said Hathaway, due to the fact that PCBs were found throughout the site and not just in the areas where it had initially been expected. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyl, are considered an organic pollutant and was found—up until it was banned in 1978—in coolant-type oils and other synthetic liquids that would have been used in mining operations. Given the fact that the EPA does not have historical data about mining operations at the site, it had not expected to find that PCBs had been spread throughout the site.
Over the past two years, close to 5,000 cubic yards of contaminated waste, consisting primarily of lead and arsenic, have been removed from five properties in the immediate vicinity of the former mine site; approximately 6,000 cubic yards of clean fill has been brought in. Hathaway said the residential restoration was “successful and mostly complete.” The estimated cost for the residential clean up is $3 million.
Over the next few years, the EPA will focus cleanup efforts on the mine site. Soils with levels of contamination between 1 and 10 parts per million of PCB will be left on site and placed into the tailings pond to be covered at a later date. The remaining contaminates, an estimated 70 percent of the material left, will be trucked off site.
The EPA asks that people do not enter the former mine site until the contaminated soils have been removed. This work is expected to last through 2013.
Scientists share research
Last year when representatives from the EPA came to Brooksville to provide an update, they brought a team of scientists who had spent some time studying aquatic life in the area. Supported by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dartmouth College, along with help from the MDI Biological Laboratory, College of the Atlantic and Indiana University, the team set forth to study the fish in various areas of Goose Pond. Having completed studies in 2010 and 2011, the research was sent with Hathaway to be included in the update.
Comparing the data over the two-year period, scientists found that there was “no significant reduction in the abundance of fish in Goose Pond,” but that the levels found in the fish tissue examined were up to 55 times higher than the acceptable limits for copper, zinc, cadmium and lead in Goose Pond. Contamination levels were reported at the highest levels in Goose Pond adjacent to the mine site, decreased in the brackish water and further decreased in the Goose Pond estuary, Dyer Cove, Goose Cove Falls and the mouth of Dyer Cove. Contamination levels were greatly reduced to levels accepted by EPA in nearby Horseshoe Cove.
Last year the Navy conducted additional research at the site. The study was designed to “support the development of improved tools for the assessment of copper and zinc bioavailability and toxicity in Navy sediments” and samples were taken from two locations in lower Goose Cove. Using established methods of data collection, juvenile worms and purple sea urchin larva were deposited into the collected sediment and the results were recorded. The data was compared to a control sample (in Sequim Bay, Wash.) and two marine sediment stations in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
In both tests there was a 100-percent mortality (or zero survival) rate for the organisms exposed to the Goose Pond sediment. This differed greatly to the range of 70-85 percent survival rate for organisms in the control and Pearl Harbor sites. “Nothing lived,” said Hathaway, “I am sure those were not the results they were hoping for.” What it shows, said Hathaway, “is that the area is highly toxic, the level of copper is high and it is bad for things to be exposed” to it.