FEMA decision sparks new impact study

WESTFIELD – The Westfield Gas & Electric Department is conducting an environmental impact assessment at the former Sackett Street manufactured gas plant (MGP), an environmental remediation project initiated in 1989 by the municipal utility and which appeared to have been completed.
Chief Financial Officer Andrew Banas, P.E., said at the Municipal Light Board July 11 meeting that a requirement issued by until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to move the fence bordering the former MGP along the top of the Westfield River levee triggered the new environmental study which has a projected cost of $200,000.
The plant was used to generate natural gas by “cracking” coal, a process which produced chemical byproducts, including heavy metal known to pose a health risk.
Banas said the remediation project was “approaching the closing stages” until FEMA required the relocation of the fence in 2011 for flood control purposes.
The WG&E had done extensive remediation of the soil outside the fence, an area accessible to pedestrians, but relocating the fence increases the area open to public access and will require a higher level of treatment that the area within the fence.
“The WG&E is therefore required to do additional field sampling, laboratory analysis and revision of the risk assessment, and report to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection,” Banas said.
The utility conducted a Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA), which was approved by the MDEP in 2003. However, the DEP has since modified the HHRA protocol which requires the utility to submit a new HHRA to the state agency.
“The new HHRA calculations methods allow more flexibility in the assessment of risk to human health,” Banas said.
The new environmental assessment was initiated on July 9 and the field work is expected to be completed by July 20.  The work entails boring 40 to 50 holes to a depth of six feet to collect soil samples. It is being done by Haley & Aldrich, a Boston based consulting firm specializing in underground engineering, environmental science and management consulting.
“The purpose of the soil sampling and analytical work is to comply with new MDEP requirements for a new risk assessment that meets the current regulations,” Banas said. “Although it is not likely that it will result in any additional remediation, or clean-up work, a final determination cannot be made until the lab work is completed and analyzed.”
“The lab results will also be used to prepare detailed engineering reports that will be filed with the MDEP,” Banas said. “We expect to receive and analyze the lab results by the end of August.”
“The potential downside of this work is that there is a chance that we’ll run into something when poking 40 to 50 holes into the ground, although we have previously done extensive sampling at the site,” Banas said.

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