Roberts: Citizen involvement needed at Starmet Superfund Site

By Mark Roberts Thursday, September 23, 2004

It has not been in the paper much recently, so you may have forgotten that one of the nation’s worst Superfund sites is located near Acton off Route 62. The Nuclear Metals, Inc. Superfund Site, is located on a 46-acre parcel located at 2229 Main St. in West Concord. In 1958, NMI began manufacture of depleted uranium products, primarily as penetrators for armor piercing ammunition. They also manufactured metal powders for medical applications, photocopiers, and specialty metal products, such as beryllium tubing used in the aerospace industry. From 1958 to 1985, NMI discharged radioactive and other hazardous waste including depleted uranium, zirconium; magnesium; beryllium, 1,1,1-trichloroethane and other solvents into an unlined large pit in the ground. NMI’s activities also resulted in burying drums of radioactive waste in at least two areas and creating a landfill with radioactive and other hazardous wastes.

On Oct. 1, 1997, NMI was renamed Starmet Corporation. In May 2001, Starmet transported 1,700 drums containing depleted uranium from its South Carolina facility to the site, to facilitate its planned sale of that facility. Starmet also had approximately 2,000 drums and other containers of depleted uranium and beryllium wastes stored inside buildings at the site.
Starmet was ordered to remove the 3,700 drums of waste material, but could not comply because of bankruptcy. After negotiations, the U.S. Army has agreed to fund the removal of the 3,700 drums under the supervision of the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection.

In June 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency also negotiated an agreement with five potentially responsible parties including: the U.S.
Army, U.S. Dept. of Energy, Whittaker Corporation, MONY Life Insurance Co., and Textron, Incorporated, for the performance of an investigation and cleanup feasibility report costing an estimated $8 million. The site has been divided into 18 separate areas, each of which will be investigated and cleaned up. The Concord annual Town Meeting of 2003 passed a resolution that the site shall be cleaned up for all uses allowable under the current zoning, including residential. This remedial investigation is just the first step in a multi-year process which will be required before the NMI Superfund Site is finally cleaned up.

EPA recognizes that the interests of the public are represented by a citizens’ group, CREW (Citizens Research and Environmental Watch), and the town of Concord through its 2229 Main St. Advisory Committee. CREW is a volunteer citizens group, which has been involved actively since 1989 in seeking a cleanup of the toxic and radioactively contaminated property, working closely with oversight agencies. Grants from the government and private foundations have enabled CREW hire consultants to assist the oversight agencies with cleanup plans. The 2229 Main St. Advisory Committee was appointed in 2001 to advise the selectmen on issues concerning the Superfund process after the NMI Site was designated a Superfund Site. The Committee meets monthly at 141 Keyes Road, Concord.

In December 2003, de maximis, the project coordinator for the non-government responsible parties, submitted a draft Work Plan, an eight-volume report which provided the complete detail of the proposed investigation and cleanup study. In a 70 page report, CREW member professionals and the environmental consultant, GeoInsight Inc., submitted hundreds of comments to improve the Plan. The comments involved historic information, the number, type and location of samples being taken, and provided information showing that the proposed model of the flow of ground water and radioactive and hazardous contaminants in ground water was flawed and needed to be revised. This advice, as well as that of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection and the
2229 Main St. Committee, was used to amend the plan. There is no question that the plan to investigate and propose cleanup remedies is substantially better now thanks to the advice of all the above. EPA and de maximus have set up an expanded public involvement process with CREW and the 2229 Main St. Committee by having periodic meetings with them about the technical aspects of the remedial investigation, so the interests of, and the contributions from, the public and Concord are heard on a regular basis.

It is only through continued public involvement and oversight that the Starmet Superfund Site will be cleaned up in a manner consistent with the goals of the residents of Concord, that the site be cleaned up once and for all and will not be a permanent blight in town. There are two things that every Concord resident can do to monitor the investigation and cleanup. The first is to regularly check the official Web site set up by de maximus, which will be updated periodically as the investigation/ cleanup goes forward. The Web site address is

The second thing you can do is to attend the public meetings held by the EPA, the next one of which is scheduled for Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Concord Town House Hearing Room on Monument Square. The EPA will be discussing whether emergency removal actions are required to address the buried drums, holding basin, the waste landfill and/or the facility buildings without waiting for the completion of the entire remedial investigation/ feasibility study process that will take years. All residents of Concord are encouraged to attend to learn what is going to be going on over the next few months, what health and safety measures are going to implemented to ensure that the investigation does not release contaminants into the environment, and to demonstrate to the EPA that Concord takes the Starmet cleanup seriously and wants this Site cleanup as quickly and completely as possible. Hope to see you there.

Mark Roberts is a resident of Concord, CREW Member and environmental attorney.