BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Health officials and police late last month removed a group of homeless people found camping on a contaminated Superfund site, Public Health Director Peter Mirandi said this week.
The move was made to protect the well-being of the camp’s inhabitants, Mirandi said.
The fate of some of the inhabitants’ belongings, like winter clothing, is still up in the air, Mirandi said.
“It is a hazardous waste site that is an EPA Superfund site,” Mirandi said. It’s a place where contamination like arsenic and dioxin, which are known to cause cancer, sits on the surface of the soil.
Mirandi updated the Board of Health on the issue on Sept. 5.
The matter involved at least five homeless men, whom Mirandi described as “buddies” and Danvers natives, living at the site of the former Creese and Cook Tannery at 55 Clinton Ave.
In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the site to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites, making it eligible for federal money for an assessment and cleanup. The former tannery site straddles both sides of Crane River, including land along Clinton Avenue, where there was an extensive tannery operation on the west bank.
“We have had a homeless population of no fewer than five — I am not sure of how many — who were able to get into the fenced-in area,” Mirandi said. The owner of the site, listed in town records as Peabody attorney Nicholas J. Decoulos, put up fencing to keep people out after the state attorney general sued him for failing to do so in 2009.
The fences and warning signs were meant to keep people out of an area that poses an imminent health hazard, Mirandi said, and “to secure a highly contaminated area.”
However, it appears the group liked camping inside the fence, as it provided a secure place away from any teenagers who might venture into the general area to party, Mirandi said. The area is at the end of Clinton Avenue, a residential street, and runs behind businesses on Hutchinson Drive.
Public health officials and police met with the group over the summer and urged them to move their campsite. The men packed up their tents and moved on after police intervened in late August, Mirandi said.
The police department’s mental health diversion specialist, Danielle Csogi, “was critical in trying to reach these guys,” Mirandi said.
“You just don’t tell them to get out; you offer them some options,” Miriandi said.
However, the group left behind some personal belongings like camp stoves and winter clothing.
Mirandi and police asked the state if they could “stand down” from having to retrieve the belongings, as they did not feel comfortable in continuing to enter the hazardous waste site.
An official for the state Department of Environmental Protection told Mirandi the state would handle the removal of the group’s belongings, as there was some concern the gear might be contaminated.
Joseph Ferson, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, said the DEP has asked Decoulos to move the belongings to somewhere secure.
Decoulos has a week to respond, Ferson said.
“If that’s not done, the department will conduct a removal, if necessary,” Ferson said.
Mirandi said he hoped the town handled the homeless group with some respect and consideration. One has been living outside for 15 winters, Mirandi said one of the men told him.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.