, Salem, MA

Danversport Explosion

November 20, 2007

Environmental cleanup could take years

DANVERS — The contamination left in the ground by last November's chemical plant explosion is migrating away from nearby homes, according to John Fitzgerald of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Solvents used by ink manufacturer CAI Inc. and paint maker Arnel Co. seeped into the groundwater and are slowly moving on a south and southeasterly path in the direction of the nearby marina and river, Fitzgerald said.

It's good news that the groundwater is not moving toward the neighborhood.

"That was our primary concern," Fitzgerald said.

Substances that survived the blast -- petroleum, xylenes, acetone, and toluene, for example -- have been discovered in the groundwater. But, "it's not as bad as we feared it could be," Fitzgerald said.

CAI and Arnel took over responsibility for cleaning up the Water Street site when the federal Environmental Protection Agency finished its work there in February. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, the EPA removed the following materials:

  • 650 empty, liquid- and solid-filled drums
  • 340 cubic yards of "hazardous sludge-like material"
  • More than 18,000 gallons of liquid, including contaminated wastewater from firefighting efforts
  • 400 tons of scrap steel
  • 7,500 gallons of flammable liquid recovered from underground storage tanks
The two companies, under the supervision of the state Department of Environmental Protection, are responsible for removing any remaining debris and ensuring that the groundwater and soil are clean. They've hired GZA Geoenvironmental Inc. to coordinate the cleanup.

Neither company could be reached for comment.

Holes have been "punched" into the ground in various locations to collect groundwater readings. Monitoring devices were placed in a sewer pipe leading from the plant to the neighborhood to detect any toxic gas heading the neighborhood's way. No gas has been detected.

The effect on the river water is still to be determined, Fitzgerald said. But groundwater moves slowly, less than a foot a day, and Fitzgerald doubted the contaminants would make it into the river in quantities large enough to imperil fish or create issues for boaters.

According to state regulations, the companies have up to six years to finish the cleanup. Fitzgerald couldn't say when the job might be done in Danversport.

"Typically," he said, "a site of this nature takes years to assess and clean up."

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